You try to eat healthy, but chances are you still may not be getting enough key nutrients like fiber. It’s estimated that 90% of Americans aren’t getting enough fiber.
Not only that, but fiber is one of only 4 nutrients (along with calcium, potassium, and vitamin D) to be labeled a “Dietary Component of Public Health Concern”. What this means: not getting enough fiber is such a big issue, it’s been declared a public health problem.
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate or carb that’s critical for healthy digestion. It’s abundant in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains like oats, legumes, and seeds like chia seeds. Without enough fiber, you may be constipated and experiencing other digestive troubles.
What is fiber?
While fiber is a carbohydrate, it doesn’t act like typical carbohydrates in the body. Other carbs like bread or pasta get digested by the body and broken down into glucose or blood sugar for use by the cells as energy. Fiber, on the other hand, is a carbohydrate that’s not digested by the body. And that’s the beauty of it.
Instead, fiber moves through the stomach and gut pretty much intact — why it’s often referred to as roughage and why it’s so important for digestive health.
There are two types of fiber important for digestive health: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water — and in the stomach and gut — creating a slimy, gel-like substance that can’t be digested. Healthy bacteria, or probiotics, in the gut feed off this soluble fiber, making it essential for a healthy gut. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, absorbs fluids and sticks to other stuff in the gut to help form stool. Both types of fiber are important for gut health — and overall health.
5 Sneaky Signs You Need More Fiber
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that adults get at least 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily. It’s estimated, though, that most adults are getting only about 15 grams per day.
1. You’re constipated. If you’re having fewer than three bowel movements a week, you’re considered constipated, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. But the truth is, you should be pooping more regularly than that for better health. And if, when you do go, your stools are hard and lumpy and not smooth and easy to pass, that’s a sure sign you’re constipated too.
What’s behind this constipation epidemic: busy lives and on-the-go eating with plenty of processed foods and not enough plant-based fiber. Not drinking enough water also contributes as water is essential to moving fiber and waste through your gut, helping you to go number 2.
2. You’re bloated. If you’re constipated, chances are you’re probably bloated too. This full feeling in your belly can be triggered when you can’t pass stools regularly. All that backed up waste collects — and ferments — causing gas to build up in the gut. Bloating, which can sometimes be painful, is the result.
When you start to eat more fiber on a daily basis, the constipation and bloating goes away.
3. You rarely feel full or satisfied after eating. If you’re hungry soon after eating, chances are you haven’t gotten enough fiber in what you ate. Fiber adds bulk to your meals. And since it never fully digests, it makes you feel full for longer.
And when you feel full, you’re likely to eat less — which can help you maintain a healthy weight overall.
4. You have high cholesterol levels. High-fiber diets go hand in hand with lower cholesterol. That’s because the gel-like substance formed by soluble fiber, in particular, traps fats and cholesterol from food, stopping your body from fully absorbing it into the bloodstream. Without enough fiber, cholesterol can build up in the bloodstream.
Foods high in soluble fiber include oats, psyllium (made from the husks of the Plantago ovata plant’s seed), apples, citrus fruits, beans, avocados, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and chia seeds.
5. You’re having a hard time controlling blood sugar levels. Fiber helps the body to process glucose or blood sugar. While fiber is a carbohydrate, a complex one at that, it doesn’t act like other carbohydrates after being eaten, which can spike blood sugar.
When you eat a meal with plenty of fiber, the rate at which glucose enters the blood is slowed, preventing a sugar rush.
How to Get More Fiber in Your Diet
The optimal way to get more fiber is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds at each meal. A balanced diet is able to give you both soluble and insoluble fiber — both of which are essential. But getting enough be hard: knowing what to eat and how much of it, and shopping for it, can be stressful and confusing for even the most health conscious of us.
Keep in mind that you also don’t want to overload the gut by eating a lot of fiber suddenly. Too much fiber all at once can cause digestive upset too with bloating, cramping, gas, and loose stools resulting. Instead, gradually add more fiber to your diet by slowing adding more to each meal — and be sure your gut is healthy.
For example, if you normally have a toasted bagel for breakfast, add an apple or a banana with your meal. If you usually grab a sandwich for lunch, add lettuce and other veggies to your sandwich, and then have a side snack of carrots or celery. And always being sure half your dinner plate is filled with plants — whole grains or veggies for example — is a good way to ensure you’re getting more fiber.
If you can’t get enough fiber from your daily diet on a regular basis (it’s hard to do so), try NBPure’s Daily Multi Fiber. You can mix up the powder — which comes in Coconut Lime and Mocha flavors — into cold water between meals. It contains a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber, mimicking the balance of fiber you’d get from eating a plant-based diet. Plus, it contains prebiotics (the type of fiber that gut bacteria need for nourishment) like inulin and probiotics or healthy bacteria for overall gut health. The result: a convenient and delicious way to ensure you’re getting enough fiber — and staying regular.