Fair warning … I know fiber isn’t sexy. But it’s important. And if you’ll give us just a few minutes, we can make our case. Because ensuring that your diet is rounded out with enough fiber is not only the key to being stronger and slimmer, but generally healthier all together. Of course, when you're thinking about your diet in terms of looking and feeling your best, fiber probably doesn’t ever come to mind. Maybe you’re thinking about boosting your protein or cutting your sugar, right? Well that needs to change, because there's a high probability that you're not getting enough roughage.
When we feel crunched for time, many of us rely on seemingly convenient on-the-go options like fast food, juices or processed and packaged snacks. But many of those foods have been stripped of their beneficial fiber. According to the FDA, most Americans are not getting their recommended dose. How much is recommended? Anywhere between 30 and 42 grams of fiber, depending on your age and your level of physical activity. And only 4% of all men and 13% of women in the United States have a fiber intake above the recommended amount. This is a problem, because a lack of fiber has been linked to all sorts of serious health outcomes, from a higher risk of heart disease to obesity and even certain cancers.
There are a handful of ways to get fiber into your diet, and while supplements can make it easy, most experts recommend getting such important nutrients from whole foods instead. Sharon Puello, RD, a New York-based Registered Dietitian, says that fiber-rich foods have additional components that provide added benefits to our gut and overall health—everything from included prebiotics and phytonutrients, to additional vitamins and minerals. In other words: You’ll get a whole lot more nutritional bang for your buck from an apple or an extra scoop of black beans in your burrito than you will from a scoop of fiber powder in your water. And when you get your fill of daily fiber, you'll start to notice a slew of health benefits. Here are just a few to encourage you to make better choices when you're hungry.
You’ll Lose Weight
Even if the only change you make to your diet is to increase your fiber intake, you'll shed pounds. Dieters who were told to get at least 30 grams of fiber a day, but given no other dietary parameters, lost a significant amount of weight, according to research done by scientists at Harvard Medical School. Fiber-rich foods not only fill you up faster and keep you feeling full and satisfied longer, they also prevent your body from absorbing some of the calories in the foods you eat. That's because fiber can actually bind with fat and sugar molecules as they travel through your digestive tract.
You’ll Cut Serious Health Risks
For every 10 grams of fiber that you consume (slightly less than a cup of beans), you reduce your risk for colorectal cancer by 10 percent, according to a study published in the Annals of Oncology. Foods that contain fiber like vegetables and fruits are also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals which again reduce your risk of cancer. Fiber-rich foods have also been found to reduce your odds of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
You’ll Have a Healthier Gut
How’s your microbiome? Could it be stronger? The fiber we eat feeds billions of bacteria in our guts. Keeping them happy means our intestines and immune system remain in good working order. As your intestinal bacteria eat the fiber that has fermented in your G.I. tract, they produce short-chain fatty acids that have such benefits as lowering inflammation, which has been linked to obesity and nearly every major chronic health problem.
You’ll Actually Enjoy Going to the Bathroom
Okay, did you think we could really get through an entire article about fiber and not mention poop? Think again. Snicker all you like, but you know the satisfaction that comes with a good bowel movement? Of course you do. And, in all seriousness, constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States. Fiber makes your poop soft yet bulky—properties that make for an easy and speedy exit from your body.
* 10 Great Sources of Fiber: Almonds, black beans, broccoli, raspberries, sweet potatoes, apples, avocados, quinoa, peas and oatmeal.