There has been a lot of talk in recent years about high-fiber foods, because benefits of this dietary component have only recently been realized. As it turns out, dietary fiber can be found in hundreds of sources and can positively affect your body in many different ways, making it one of the most important nutrients that you should consume on a daily basis.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate substance found in food made from plants, and is often referred to as roughage. This type of food is resistant to digestive enzymes, and includes polysaccharides, lignin,oligosaccharides, resistant starch, inulin and other similar plant substances. Dietary fiber has an impact on the gastrointestinal tracts, and can also affect physiological functions in other parts of the body, such as cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity. There are many different types of dietary fiber but it is mainly broken down into two categories – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Difference between Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
The fundamental difference between soluble and insoluble fiber is that soluble fiber dissolves in water, while insoluble fiber does not. This simple distinction gives them notably different properties when it comes to digestion and how they interact with the body.
- Soluble Fiber – Since this type of fiber can dissolve in water, it actually ferments in the colon and functions as a prebiotic, improving the efficiency of digestion, boosting nutrient uptake and balancing the bacterial levels in the gut. The main effect of soluble fiber on digestion is that it increases the feeling of fullness and stimulates the release of leptin, the satiety hormone, which tells the body that it is full.
- Insoluble Fiber – This type of fiber does not dissolve in water, so its function in the body is slightly utilitarian. As an inert substance in most cases (although some insoluble fibers can ferment), it works to bulk up stool and promote peristaltic motion in the colon. This helps to lubricate the intestinal tract and move food through the body, without compromising nutrient uptake. Insoluble fiber is often associated with relieving constipation and diarrhea, as it regulates bowel movements on both extremes.
Most plant foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, but they are categorized based on which type of fiber is predominantly present in that particular food. Clearly, fiber is a critical component of a balanced diet and a healthy digestive system, and fortunately, there are dozens of excellent sources of fiber that are easy to add to your diet!
Best High-fiber Foods
With up to 15 cups of dietary fiber in a single cup, black beans are one of the densest sources of fiber in a diet, and also provides a significant amount of protein, which can aid in faster growth and development.
When it comes to traditional vegetables, artichokes contain more fiber than any other contenders, and are very useful in various dishes, stews and salads, but most people don’t have these fiber-dense foods on hand.
Overflowing with potassium, omega-3 fatty acids and a significant amount of dietary fiber, raw avocado are extremely versatile in salads, on sandwiches, as guacamole or simply eaten with a spoon, delivering more than 13 grams of fiber if you eat an entire fruit.
Known as the food with more dietary than any other, lentils provide more than 16 grams of fiber in each cooked cup. Lentils are extremely filling, even in small quantities, and are also mild in flavor, so they can be added to many different dishes.
These underused fruits are extremely dense in fiber, particularly in the skin, so if you want to get your bowels moving, leave the skin on your pear and enjoy the more than 5 grams of fiber that the fruit can provide.
Fiber-rich vegetables like broccoli are excellent additions to salads and stews, while they can also be eaten raw as a healthy snack. With more than 5 grams of fiber in each cup of broccoli, this vegetable is known to reduce appetite and aid in weight loss.
Generally, anything that uses whole wheat ingredients will be rich in dietary fiber, far more than the “white flour” counterparts. Whole-wheat pasta, for example, boasts more than 6 grams of fiber per cup, and is relatively similar to normal pasta, provided it is prepared in the right recipe!
One of the easiest foods to add to your morning routine, oatmeal will start your digestive day off strong with 4 grams of fiber in every cup, helping you improve nutrient uptake of the rest of the food you eat that day.
Tips to add more Fiber to your Food
Many people’s diets don’t include enough fiber, which is why constipation and poor nutrient uptake are such common health problems. Fortunately, adding extra fiber to your diet is surprisingly easy, if you follow a few simple tricks to alter your daily intake and food habits.
- Add Fruit – Fruit is an extremely easy addition to many meals and recipes, and the majority of fruit has an impressive amount of dietary fiber. Throw some strawberries onto your afternoon salad, mix a banana into your oatmeal, or simply snack on a bowl of chopped fruit at night, rather than turning to the ice cream or junk food.
- Cereal for Breakfast – Rather than skipping breakfast or just having a cup of coffee and a jelly donut, try having some type of bran-based cereal every morning. This can often provide up to 1/3 of the fiber you require on a daily basis.
- Trail Mix Snacks – When you are feeling the urge to snack in the afternoon, instead of a soda and a bag of chips, have a bag of trail mix on hand, which is usually packed with dried fruit, seeds and nuts, all of which can give you a major fiber boost right when you need it!
- Bean Salads – Legumes can be boring as side dishes in meals but they add flavor and nutrient density to salads! Tossing a few beans onto a common garden salad will make the meal even more fiber-dense, and will keep you full for hours.
- Whole-Wheat Everything – If you can switch from white flour ingredients to a whole-wheat base, your fiber intake will rise significantly. Whether it is bread, pasta, tortillas, burritos, couscous or pita, try a whole-wheat variety instead!
- Eat the Skin – A lot of fiber in fruits and vegetables are present in the skin. Pears, apples and sweet potatoes, for example, have most of their dietary fiber in the skin, so stop peeling your food if you want a good dose of fiber!
- Smoothies – A simple, sweet and delicious way to increase your fiber intake is to make a fruit or vegetable smoothie every morning. If you choose your ingredients carefully, you can get nearly an entire day’s worth of fiber in a single meal!
Benefits of High-fiber Foods
High-fiber foods are extremely important to your overall health, as they help to manage blood sugar, promote healthy digestion, increase nutrient uptake efficiency, aid in weight-loss efforts and protect cardiovascular health in multiple ways.
Dietary fiber has long been connected to heart health because it can help to balance cholesterol levels in the body. Furthermore, numerous research studies have found that a diet high in fiber-rich foods makes you far less likely to suffer from heart disease or stroke.
As explained above, soluble fiber helps to make you feel full, while also helping to improve the bacterial balance in the gut. This can help to prevent overeating, which can lead to bloating, cramping, burping and excess flatulence. Insoluble fiber will help to bulk up the stool, leading to better peristaltic motion in the gut, speeding the digestive process, while also improving the colon and stomach’s ability to access and absorb nutrients.
Since dietary fiber helps you feel full and stimulates the release of leptin, the satiety hormone, many people add fiber-rich foods to their weight-loss diet, as this can help drop their daily calorie intake, without compromising on their nutritional needs.
Dietary fiber has been directly linked to better diabetes management, as it can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This will not only lower your risk of developing diabetes but also lower fat deposition and prevent other risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
High-fiber Foods for Weight Loss
These underdeveloped soybeans are a culinary treat and a cultural staple in certain parts of the world, but also deliver 9 grams of fiber in a half-cup serving, which is extremely dense and will quickly fill you up, without adding too many calories.
A single cup of pumpkin contains 7 grams of fiber, which is roughly 1/4 of your daily recommended intake of fiber. This variety of squash also has a number of unique antioxidants and nutrients required for a healthy metabolism, which can further stimulate calorie-burning and weight loss.
In terms of eliminating hunger, almonds are a simple and delicious snack that provides 3.5 grams of fiber in a single ounce, which is basically a good-sized handful of nuts. This will also give you a magnesium boost, which can prevent fat-deposition in the body and instead convert fat into usable energy.
Each of these fruits may only have 2 grams of fiber, but combined with the rich supply of other nutrients and minerals, these fiber-dense fruits can seriously boost metabolism and aid weight-loss efforts.
Also known as cowpeas, a single cup of these cooked peas offers 11 grams of dietary fiber. These are known to stimulate digestion, which can help with weight loss if you’ve been backed up for some time.
These popular Middle Eastern fruits are available around the world, thanks to their 1.5 grams of fiber, in addition to potassium, vitamin C and calcium, which are also considered as laxative fruits, as these can help with weight loss.
High-fiber Foods that you Should Eat
Try a cereal composed primarily of bran flakes, mixed in with some probiotic-rich yogurt. A single cup of these bran flakes contains 7 grams of fiber, making it the ideal start to your day, digestively speaking.
With more dietary fiber than any other nut, peanuts boast 12 grams of fiber in each cup, so whether you grab a handful for a snack, make your own peanut butter at home, or sprinkle them over your salads or trail mixes, don’t skip these nutrient-dense nuts!
Surprisingly, split peas has more than 16 grams of fiber in a single cooked cup, which is an even better reason to make your own legendary split-pea soup. There is also ample proteins and minerals in these peas, so they should definitely be in your diet.
This Mediterranean staple grain is extremely dense in fiber and is versatile if you have grown sick of eating brown rice or other whole grains. With over 8 grams of fiber in each cup, this is an exotic option to improve your digestive health.
Most people think of sesame seeds as a topping but each tablespoon contains 1 gram of fiber, so adding these to your salads, soups, smoothies and trail mixes is an excellent idea.