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While getting too many carbohydrates is often a concern, most people do not consume nearly enough fiber. Fiber is the roughage that is found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and some other foods. It supports a healthy digestive tract, and not getting enough can result in unpleasant symptoms and other health problems.
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is a mostly indigestible component found in carbohydrate foods. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves during the digestive process in the colon, breaking down into a substance that’s gelled, while insoluble fiber never breaks down at all.
Both of these types of fiber play an important role not only in supporting a digestive tract that functions efficiently but also in nourishing the good bacteria that live in the gut. Certain types of fiber are referred to as “prebiotic,” because they feed the gut microbiome and help to support an abundant microbial population.
Prebiotic fiber includes:
- Chicory root
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Dandelion greens
- Konjac root
While all types of fiber are beneficial, these specifically feed the good bacteria in the gut. This is every bit as essential as eating probiotic foods.
Health Benefits of Fiber
Fiber does more than just prevent constipation. It can also promote feelings of fullness, which can in turn decrease overeating or constant snacking. This can lead to weight loss for those who may need it.
Fiber is also the roughage needed to promote regularity in digestive transport. This isn’t only about constipation relief, either. With bulk in the digestive system, foods and nutrients move more efficiently to where they need to go. This means they don’t sit excessively long in the small intestine or large intestine, and your body gets the fuel and nutrients on schedule.
Fiber is also excellent for promoting healthy blood sugar levels because it takes longer to break down. Refined flours and any sugars provide “quick” sources of energy—but those can come with a downside as they create a roller coaster effect for your blood sugar. Fiber creates a more stable environment and can lead to balance, which is what the body is always seeking to maintain.
How Much Fiber Do You Need?
The average person in the US only gets about 16 grams of fiber per day. Ancestral diets were much higher in fiber, with intakes as high as 100 grams per day. While it may seem difficult to consume that much fiber today, aiming for a minimum of 45-50 grams of fiber can have a dramatic impact on gut health.
If you’re newly increasing your fiber, it’s a good idea to do it in a step-level fashion. Someone who is only used to eating 15 grams of fiber per day could feel a great deal of digestive discomfort if they suddenly increase to 50 grams per day. Make intentional choices to increase the fiber-rich foods that you’re eating, but don’t start suddenly taking a dietary supplement for fiber. While those can fill gaps at times, it’s optimal to get fiber from whole food sources.
Your diet needs a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber foods. Many sources contain some of both. The following list includes some of the best ancestral high-fiber foods.
- Brussels sprouts
- Chia seeds
- Fresh coconut
- Sweet potatoes
Today’s Simple Step
If you’re not used to paying attention to fiber, you may not know how much you eat on a regular basis. It’s easy to discover how many grams of fiber are in the foods you’re already eating. Use Cronometer or a similar app, or keep a food journal and look up the fiber content on foods from the USDA database.
These Pickled Beets are a traditional food with significant nutritional value. Not only are they rich in fiber, but beets also provide folate, manganese, iron, vitamin C, and potassium. They’re also a source of phytonutrients, the beneficial chemicals found in plants. Beets contain betalains, which are the reason beets have such a deep red color. Betalains provide nitrates, a compound that naturally promotes healthy blood pressure levels by supporting your body’s natural ability to dilate blood vessels.