The word fiber comes from the Latin word “fibra,” meaning thread, string, filament, entrails.
Dietary fiber refers to nutrients in the diet that are not digested by gastrointestinal enzymes.
In this article, we will look at the different types of fiber, why they are important, and what foods contain high levels of fiber.
Two types of fiber are needed for overall health.
Insoluble fiber, found in whole-wheat flour products, wheat bran, nuts and vegetables, increases stool bulk and promotes movement of food through the digestive system.
Soluble fiber, found in oats, peas, beans, apples, carrots and citrus fruits, dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that slows absorption of food components, thus allowing the body to retain more nutrients.
Know lets look at some health benefits of fiber.
9 Health Benefits of Fiber
There’s no shortage of research showing how fiber may boost your health. Some of its top potential benefits include:
- Blood sugar control: Soluble fiber may help to slow your body’s breakdown of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar, helping with blood sugar control.
- Heart health: An inverse association has been found between fiber intake and heart attack, and research shows that those eating a high-fiber diet have a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease.
- Stroke: Researchers have found that for every seven-grams more fiber you consume on a daily basis, your stroke risk is decreased by 7 percent.
- Weight loss and management: Fiber supplements have been shown to enhance weight loss among obese people, likely because fiber increases feelings of fullness.
- Skin health: Fiber, particularly psyllium husk, may help move yeast and fungus out of your body, preventing them from being excreted through your skin where they could trigger acne or rashes.
- Diverticulitis: Dietary fiber (especially insoluble) may reduce your risk of diverticulitis – an inflammation of polyps in your intestine – by 40 percent.
- Hemorrhoids: A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of hemorrhoids.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Fiber may provide some relief from IBS.
- Gallstones and kidney stones: A high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of gallstones and kidney stones, likely because of its ability to help regulate blood sugar.
Why do we need to eat fibre?
It used to be called “roughage”, and people tried to get rid of it. Now we have heard plenty about it, but why do we need fibre in our diet?
Dietary fibre is actually a form of carbohydrate that does not get digested by enzymes in our small intestine, and so its sugar units are not absorbed into the bloodstream. Dietary fibre is therefore known as ‘non-glycaemic‘.
However, fibre has important effects on other nutrients within the small intestine and through effects on the large intestine, where few other nutrients arrive intact. It has a range of valuable health effects:
- Smooths out digestion and absorption of glucose and fats in the small intestine. It reduces the Glycaemic Index of a meal.
- Provides fuel for the healthful or “good” bacteria in our large intestine which in turn benefit us by making vitamin B12, and by releasing volatile fatty acids from the dietary fibre which are important for the health of our colon.
- Speeds up transit though the intestines to remove waste and toxins from our body
- Regulates bowel action, so reduces cancer risks.
Did you know?
Dietary fibre has been sold for years as a ‘bulking agent’ as people thought it must reduce appetite and help weight loss.
But research shows that it doesn’t actually reduce appetite or assist weight loss directly.
Where do we find dietary fibre in our food?
Generally, dietary fibre is present in all plant foods – fruits, vegetables and grains – but not in animal foods. This is mainly because of the different in cell structures – plants cells have cell walls, animal cells don’t.
Soluble fibre is particularly rich in legumes – lentils and peas and beans (including peanuts) and bean products like ‘soya protein’ – and in oats, barley, fruits, vegetables and potatoes
Is there a down-side? Can you have too much dietary fibre?
Well, yes you can… First, some advice for you if you want to add more fibre to your diet… Increase fibre-rich foods gradually, because a sudden large addition of fibre into your diet can cause stomach cramps and excessive, often painful, wind.
Your intestine will adapt in time.
And, too much dietary fibre can interfere with the absorption of minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium from foods.
This is not often a problem because high-fibre foods usually contain plenty of these minerals, and vegetarians on very high fibre diets tend to be healthy, but it can cause problems when the overall diet quality is poor.
If you are taking fibre supplements, be careful and only use them occasionally.
It’s important to always make sure that you keep yourself well hydrated in relation to your fibre consumption, because fibre can dehydrate you a little and become sluggish in your system.
So we can see that dietary fibre has lots of plus-features, but it can have a few minuses too. Our health depends on eating a balanced diet- and it can sometimes be a bit tricky to work out all the pluses and minuses of all the nutrients.
The Best 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.
Go-To Recipe: Spinach and Yellow Split Pea Soup
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.
Go-To Recipe: Lentil Quinoa Burgers with Sautéed Mushrooms
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.
Go-To Recipe: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
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.
Go-To Recipe: Leek and Lima Bean Soup with Bacon
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.
Go-To Recipe: Roasted Artichokes for Two
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.
Go-To Recipe: Scallops on Minted Pea Purée with Prosciutto
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.
Go-To Recipe: Paleo Broccoli Fritters
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.
8. Brussels Sprouts
Fiber: 4.1 grams per cup, boiled.
Go-To Recipe: Hoisin Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Try this Asian twist on the old standard—this meal carries tones of ginger, sesame, and peanut that will keep you coming back for seconds (and maybe thirds).
Fiber: 8 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Raspberry, Coconut, and Oat Macaroons
Raspberries aren’t a hard sell—they’re basically nature’s candy. With the help of coconut, oatmeal, and vanilla, they make a relatively healthy dessert that pleases any palate.
Fiber: 7.6 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Blackberry Lemon Salad
Successfully mixing sweet and savory isn’t for the faint of heart, but this salad makes use of blackberries, lemon, scallions, and dill to great effect.
Fiber: 6.7 grams per half, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Chicken, Black Bean, Avocado and Radish Salad
Few foods deserve the title of “superfood” more than the avocado, which is jam-packed with vitamins, fiber, and healthy fats. Pile it on top of this low-carb, Mexican-inspired salad to add some creamy goodness.
Fiber: 5.5 grams per medium fruit, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Herb-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Pears
This recipe is a simple and inexpensive way to experiment with an unusual flavor combination. Pork works well with sweeter flavors, and the high sugar content of pears makes them easy to caramelize.
13. Bran Flakes
Fiber: 7 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Vanilla, Honey, and Yogurt Smoothie with Bran Flakes
Short on time? Whip up a nutritious smoothie and take breakfast to go. This shake is a healthy and delicious way to get plenty of fiber and a hefty amount of protein, all in one glass.
14. Whole-Wheat Pasta
Fiber: 6.3 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Avocado Pesto Pasta with Peas and Spinach
With the right sauce, whole-wheat pasta is indistinguishable from its high G.I., white-flour cousin. Mix in avocado to add a wonderful creaminess to your pasta without using dairy.
15. Pearled barley
Fiber: 6 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Pearl Barley Risotto with Roasted Squash, Red Peppers, and Rocket
It’s not just for making beer—barley is a chewy, nutritious grain that contains more fiber than oatmeal and brown rice. It can be used in soup, salad, or tea, but try it out in this tasty risotto with seasonal fall vegetables.
Fiber: 4 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Carrot Cake Oatmeal
With just one tablespoon of maple syrup per serving, this breakfast is a guilt-free way to indulge in the morning. Plus, it’s packed with fiber-friendly oats, carrots, and coconut.
Sneaky Tips to Add More Fiber to Any Meal
- Add flaxseed meal to oats, smoothies, yogurt, and baked goods—you can even try breading chicken or fish with it. A two-tablespoon serving contains 3.8 grams of fiber and a dose of omega-3 fatty acids to boot.
- Chia seeds have a whopping 5.5 grams of fiber per tablespoon. When they meet with water, they form a goopy gel that is great for thickening smoothies, making healthy puddings, or replacing eggs in cakes and cookies.
- While spinach and carrots aren’t as high in fiber as the veggies mentioned above, they can easily be sliced or grated and snuck into many dishes without much hassle: Try adding some to banana bread, shakes, eggs, or even a homemade pizza base.
- Food processors are fiber’s best friend. Purée some cooked vegetables and add them to sauces and stews, or swap out rice for chopped-up cauliflower.