When it comes to health, most people focus on what they’re eating too much of — sugar-filled desserts, fattening snacks, and processed foods filled with artificial preservatives. But many experts believe one of the biggest weaknesses in the American diet is actually what we aren’t eating enough of: Fiber.
Fiber is naturally found in beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; and the US Institute of Medicine recommends that men eat 38 grams of fiber per day and women eat 25 grams per day.
But research has found that 95% of adults fall short of that mark. In fact, surveys show the average American eats only 16.2 grams of fiber per day — nowhere near the recommendations.
Here’s why low fiber intake matters.
Eating a fiber-rich diet is associated with a number of health benefits, including a decreased risk of heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and even certain cancers.
Fiber is also helpful for weight loss and weight management, largely because of its relationship with carbohydrates.
Carbs are the subject of much controversy in the fields of nutrition and weight loss. They’re an excellent source of energy, which is why it’s common to hear about athletes “carbo-loading” before a big game. But high-carb foods can also lead to big spikes in blood sugar, prompting the body to store the leftovers as fat.
For this reason, many popular diets encourage people to severely limit their carb intake, which can be problematic.
A recent Vox article quotes nutritionist Julie Jones, saying, “People are so busy avoiding carbs, they forget that these foods give [them] important dietary components.”
And the Mayo Clinic warns that “Some diets restrict carbohydrate intake so much that in the long term they can result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies, bone loss, and gastrointestinal disturbances and may increase risks of various chronic diseases.”
Nobody wants that, and fiber offers a compromise. Fiber is a plant-based carbohydrate, and the foods in which it is found tend to produce a slower supply of blood sugar. This leads to more sustainable energy, smaller blood sugar spikes, and less fat storage.
Fiber allows you to not deprive your body of needed energy and nutrients — and still manage your weight intelligently.
Pretty cool, right? If reading that makes you want to eat more fiber, you’ll find some suggestions below.
Just note that to stay safe, you should always consult with your doctor before making dietary changes.
An Easy Way to Eat More Fiber
There are literally thousands of fiber-rich foods, and if you’re looking for one simple step toward eating more fiber, beans can be a great place to start. Beans contain more fiber per serving than any other food, making them a quick way to boost your fiber intake.
If you don’t like beans, it’s worth noting there are more than just black and pinto. Garbanzo beans, for instance, are a great source of fiber, and these mild-flavored beans tend to blend with the tastes of the foods they’re served with.
Two Tips from an Expert
As you up your fiber intake, Dr. Diana Fleming, Ph.D. nutritionist, has two recommendations.
First, “work your way up gradually.” There are dozens of jokes about beans and gas, and they’re grounded in science. High fiber foods can lead to temporary gas and bloating when your body isn’t used to them. Slow, steady changes help to ease that transition.
Second, drink a healthy amount of water throughout the day. According to Dr. Fleming, “Fiber loves water like a pig loves mud.” Improving your water intake will aid digestion and help with the previously mentioned gas issue.
Are you eating enough?
With so many reasons to eat a healthy amount of fiber, hopefully, you’re considering making changes in your own life.
After reviewing 185 studies, The Lancet reported that if 1,000 people would transition to a high fiber diet from current averages, it would prevent 13 deaths.
The stakes don’t get much higher than that. So talk with your doctor and decide whether adding more fiber to your diet could improve the length and quality of your life.
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