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From gluten free and minimizing lectins, to intermittent fasting and keto diets, the internet is full of dietary recommendations promising to fix all of your health concerns. It can be so difficult to navigate which method to follow based on your own needs. Interestingly, almost all of the recommendations out there have some merit to them, but just because a certain method has proven beneficial for your neighbor or your friend or the n-1000 people in the most recently published study doesn’t mean that it will benefit you. At St. Jude Wellness Center, we work with an array of conditions both from the prevention lens, as well as managing a condition healthfully once has become a reality. We see every day that there is no one nutrition fix or dietary protocol for everyone that walks through our doors. However, we do see time and time again one single solitary nutrient that does seem to provide health benefit for pretty much everyone: FIBER. Fiber is a vital nutrient for managing everything from heart disease to diabetes to weight control and can be a significant player in preventing the onset of these kinds of chronic metabolic diseases.

What is fiber?

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods that is not easily digested by our bodies.

How does fiber help?

  • Digestive Health: The lack of complete digestion of fibrous foods creates bulk in our stool and enhances proper elimination from our bodies. The undigested bits also act as a primary food source for gut bacteria, aka probiotics, which contribute not only to gut health but significantly to immune health as well.
  • Diabetes Management: Fiber slows down digestion of whatever we ate, thereby reducing the rate of absorption of sugars and creating lower glycemic meals. If you are someone who uses a continuous glucose monitor you can easily see the difference in a low fiber vs. high fiber meal by tracking the much slower and lower blood sugar spike after eating more fiber.
  • Heart Health: Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol to eliminate it from the body, which in turn reduces LDL and Triglycerides, known markers of heart health.
  • Weight Management: In addition to the gut benefits that help us digest food more effectively, and the blood sugar management which helps us utilize energy better to control weight, fiber also creates the feeling of satiety, aka fullness. The more fiber we eat, the fuller we feel, the less we tend to overeat and the healthier our weight becomes.

How much fiber do we need?

American Dietary Guidelines recommend 20-25g fiber per day for basic bodily needs. This looks like 5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day minimum. Many traditional diets such as those studied in the Blue Zones eat closer to 40g per day. And for reference, the average American eats around 12-14g per day, so we have some work to do.

How can you meet your fiber goals?

  1. Focus first on getting those 5 cups per day of fruits and veggies. Whenever you eat, try to identify at least 1 cup. And remember those measurements are raw, so 2 cups raw spinach cooks down to closer to 1/2 cup but still counts as 2 cups!
  2. Embrace all the plant foods. Don’t forget about beans, lentils, oats & soy! All of these offer tons of fiber alongside protein and some healthy fat. Try this Apple Cinnamon Overnight Oats recipe or this Roasted Sweet Potato Chickpea Bowl!
  3. Evaluate your snacks. Can you add some nuts or seeds there? Perhaps some veggies or avocado? Snacks are an often missed opportunity to meet your fiber needs. Instead of a granola bar, how about mixed nuts (Pistachio Mix anyone)? Instead of just crackers, how about some veggies alongside?
  4. Don’t miss out on hidden high sources! We often think only of raw veggies as fibrous foods, but split peas, lentils, chia seeds and avocado are actually some of the highest sources of fiber we can get! Smoky Chickpeas & Spinach hits the spot alongside a protein source, which this Avocado Pudding will make you AND your probiotics drool!
  5. When unable, supplement. While we will shout “food first” until we are blue in the face, sometimes that just isn’t an option. Those with tummy troubles with IBS have a hard time tolerating food fiber, or perhaps you are on a roadtrip with little access to fresh foods. On days you just can’t meet your needs, consider a high quality supplement to make sure your gut gets fed. We like this one in case you need a suggestion.

Cheers to your fiber-filled lifestyle!