Dietary fiber may not be the sexiest thing to talk about when it comes to your diet, but it has a slew of health benefits that are worth discussing. That’s because high-fiber foods can help improve almost every system in your body, especially digestion. That’s (fiber-rich) bananas if you ask us. We got the scoop on the top foods that are high in fiber from Jessica Cording, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City.
What are the health benefits of fiber?
A high-fiber diet can help support cardiovascular health by managing LDL cholesterol levels (aka the bad cholesterol), according to Cording. And long-term, eating fiber has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, diverticular disease, and even breast cancer, according to multiple studies at Harvard University.
It's also helpful for promoting healthy digestion and gut health, especially if you drink enough water to keep that fiber moving through the GI tract. If your diet is lacking in fiber, you may experience some immediate consequences, like constipation, or gas and bloating from inadequate movement in your intestines.
Fiber can also help keep you feeling fuller for longer: “Fiber supports satiety, that feeling of being satisfied after a snack or a meal.” says Cording. “Satiety is important in weight management. By slowing the digestive process fiber can also aid in blood sugar management,” she explains.
Insoluble fiber vs. soluble fiber
Like peas in a pod, there are actually two types of fiber. Both are important for keeping you healthy.
What is soluble fiber?
Soluble fiber is responsible for satiety: “Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance when it comes into contact with water,” says Cording. “This gel actually helps keep us full by taking up space in the stomach and slowing down digestion.” It’s also the type of fiber that helps escort LDL cholesterol out of the body. Good sources of soluble fiber include beans, oats and oat bran, barley, apples, strawberries, and citrus fruits.
What is insoluble fiber?
Insoluble fiber does just the opposite of soluble fiber: It moves along your digestion instead of slowing it down. “Insoluble fiber helps speed transit time through the GI tract, supporting regular digestion,” Cording tells us. A few good sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, seeds, leafy greens, and even skins of many different fruits and vegetables like apples or sweet potatoes.
How can I eat more fiber?
Adults need 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day depending on their metabolism and medical history, according to Cording. That’s the equivalent to 12 cups of broccoli, four avocados, or three cups of lentils. That’s a lot of roughage.
Instead of eating one meal chock-full of fiber or taking excess fiber supplements, “aim to incorporate one fiber-rich food into each meal or snack so it's spread out through the day,“ says Cording. She also reminds us that it’s important to increase your water intake, which will ease stomach discomfort if your fiber intake has been lacking.
If you make a few easy swaps every day, your fiber intake can really add up. Skip juice and eat whole fruits or smoothies instead. Replace rice, bread and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products. Snacking on raw vegetables can add more fiber with your dips while keeping the crisp and crunch of chips or crackers.
Get your fiber fill every day by incorporating some of these delicious and fiber-rich foods into your meals and snacks. Aim for progress, not perfection and check in to see if you’re feeling more satisfied and energetic after a few weeks of increased fiber intake.
Beans (3.8g) are a great source of soluble fiber. They will keep you full and can take the place of meats in soups or stews.
Oats and oat bran
Fresh or as unsweetened applesauce, apples (3.2g) are major sources of soluble fiber and great for your GI system.
Yet another reason to eat your greens like kale (1.8g), spinach (2.4g), broccoli (2.4g), they’re all chock-full of insoluble fiber. Greens are easy to add as a side dish to any meal—like we do in our Sicilian-style Chicken Parm, replacing a side of pasta with a side of garlic broccoli.
Pumpkin (10g), sunflower (5g), chia (30g): all of these seeds contain insoluble fiber and they all boost the nutrient-density of any meal. Top your salads, yogurt or breakfast oats with seeds for a fiber boost.
*All measures are per 100 grams
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