Fibre (fiber in the U.S.) comes exclusively from plants; there is no fibre in meat, fish or animal products (including dairy).
Fibre is a complex carbohydrate (type of sugar) but unlike other carbohydrates, which are broken down by the body to provide fuel in the form of glucose, fibre cannot be digested by the human body.
We gain no nutrients or energy from fibre, it holds no calories as it is not digested, but passes through our digestive systems.
Fibre or ‘roughage’ does, however, provide an important function in the body; it is essential to a well-tuned digestive system and can help the body remove potentially harmful waste.
To reap the healthy benefits of fiber, try to eat at least 20-35 g of fiber per day.
Types of Fibre
There are two main types of fibre – soluble and insoluble – both are beneficial to health.
Soluble fibre dissolves in the stomach creating a sticky gel-like substance – a type of glue. This ‘glue’ traps certain components of food, fats and sugars, making them more difficult for the body to absorb.
This means that sugars (carbohydrates) are absorbed more slowly and blood sugar levels are kept steadier for longer.
Foods high in fibre and complex carbohydrates tend to have lower GI scores, sugars are released more slowly.
When soluble fibre dissolves it can also bind to certain fats in our stomachs. People who have high fibre diets are less likely to suffer from high cholesterol.
Fibre can bind to and absorb cholesterol in the intestine before it can enter the bloodstream.
This is especially the case for low-density lipoproteins (LDL) the ‘bad’ cholesterol which, in high levels, can lead to serious health problems.
People who want to lower their cholesterol are therefore advised to eat high fibre foods as well as reducing their intake of saturated and trans fats.
Insoluble Fibre does not dissolve in water or your stomach.
Rather it absorbs water and increases in size – as insoluble fibre passes through your digestive system it provides bulk and moisture to stools, a natural laxative effect, thus reducing the symptoms of constipation.
Bulkier stools are also helpful in cleaning the wall of the intestine removing wastes and promoting a healthy colon.
People who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) should be cautious about eating foods high in insoluble fibre on an empty stomach.
Although insoluble fibre is important to a healthy diet it may trigger symptoms of IBS, it is therefore recommended that sufferers mix high insoluble fibre foods with other less fibrous foods to minimise problems.
Simple Ways to Increase Fiber in Your Diet
Choose a wide variety of fiber sources
Plant foods provide two types of fiber: soluble fiber (which increases the feeling of fullness) and insoluble fiber (which aids the digestive system and promotes regularity).
Pick whole grain foods over refined carbohydrates
Whole grain foods are a natural source of dietary fiber.
Unlike refined carbohydrates (think white bread), whole grains retain the kernel’s fiber-rich outer shell, known as bran.
To identify whole grains, look for these ingredients on labels: whole wheat, hard red winter wheat, barley, triticale, oats, rye, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, and bulgur.
When looking for fiber-rich whole grains, not all whole grains are made the same. Read the Nutrition Facts panel to identify the fiber content for whole grains.
Eat High-Fiber Snacks
Instead of grabbing for a bag of chips, eat some popcorn, fruit, whole grain crackers, or nuts. These snack foods all contain fiber and other nutrients that can benefit your health.
Nuts and seeds, although high in fat, contain unsaturated fats that can help lower your cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
Popcorn is a high-fiber snack and can be healthy if you don’t add lots of extra butter. Check your food labels to help you pick the most nutrient-dense, high-fiber snack foods.
Begin your day with a fiber boost
You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but starting your day with the right kind of fuel is equally important.
Choose breakfast cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving opt for whole wheat toast, or grab a handful of fiber-rich berries.
Load up on legumes
High-fiber legumes like beans, peas, and lentils – are among the best sources of fiber.
Add one serving to your day by incorporating legumes into salads, soups, and casseroles, or puree them to make a delicious dip.
Surprising High-Fiber Foods
Note: The amount of fiber in these foods can vary slightly between the raw and cooked versions.
1. Split Peas
Fiber: 16.3 grams per cup, cooked.
A staple in Indian cooking, split peas form a terrific, protein-rich base for soups, stews, and dhals.
This South Asian recipe is the best kind of comfort food: healthy, satisfying, and super filling.
Fiber: 15.6 grams per cup, cooked.
Lentils are kitchen all-stars—they take less time to cook and are more versatile than many other legumes.
This recipe takes advantage of their slightly meatier taste and turns them into a juicy patty that’s held together with lemon juice, cilantro, and walnuts.
3. Black Beans
Fiber: 15 grams per cup, cooked.
Sweet potato pairs perfectly with the smokiness of chipotle peppers and adds even more fiber to this hearty bean dish.
Loaded with complex carbs and protein, this cold-weather stew makes a perfect post-workout meal.
4. Lima Beans
Fiber: 13.2 grams per cup, cooked.
Lima beans might sound unappetizing, but when cooked in bacon fat, paired with leeks, puréed into a soup, and topped with sour cream, they’re pretty darn delicious.
Fiber: 10.3 grams per medium vegetable, cooked.
Packing more fiber per serving than any other vegetable, artichokes are curiously underused in most people’s kitchens (perhaps because they look a bit… prickly).
Get creative and try this simple recipe with lime, garlic, and black pepper.
Fiber: 8.8 grams per cup, cooked.
Puréeing veggies is a great way to squeeze extra nutrients into any meal—this recipe comes together lightning-fast and is filled with protein, omega-3s, and, of course, fiber.
Fiber: 5.1 grams per cup, boiled.
This caveman-friendly dish is pretty simple.
To make these fritters, just combine onion, garlic, broccoli, eggs, and almond meal. Once they hit the table, you’ll be surprised how much broccoli gets finished in one sitting.