We’ve all heard we should get plenty of fiber from our diet every day, but what’s the best way to get enough and what exactly do high-fiber foods do? And what’s the healthiest high-fiber diet?
While many people know that fibrous foods are important in weight loss and maintaining heart health, most people still fall short of getting enough. It’s recommended that adults get at least 25–30 grams of fiber every day — ideally even more — yet most get only about 15 grams or less.
Why We Need a High-Fiber Diet
Despite the recommendations about eating a high-fiber diet and many food manufacturers claiming that their products are “high in fiber,” it’s still a commonly misunderstood nutrient. Yet it’s one that deserves some explaining considering how many important roles it has in the body.
What exactly is fiber? Fiber is a part of the structure of plants and helps build plant molecules, including cellulose, lignins and pectin. Fiber actually contains zero calories since it essentially can’t be digested by humans, and although it’s found in carbohydrate foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains, it doesn’t contribute any carbs to our diets.
Due to its structure and our inability to absorb it, fiber passes through our digestive system unabsorbed by digestive enzymes within the stomach, taking with it toxins, waste, fat and cholesterol particles out of the gut. In the process, it helps improve our heart health, makes us feel full, and, of course, helps with digestion and detoxification.
There are actually two different kinds of dietary fiber: insoluble and soluble. We need both kinds, which are present in almost all whole foods that are carbohydrates, but what’s the difference between the two?
- Soluble fiber slows down digestion by attracting water and forming a gel-like substance once digested. This kind of fiber is found in foods like oats or oat bran, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables like berries and carrots. (2) Soluble fiber is the type that helps with weight loss because it slows the process of food emptying from your stomach and makes you feel full for longer after eating.
- Insoluble fiber tends to speed up digestion by adding bulk to stool (basically helping relieve constipation and allowing you to poop). Insoluble fiber is found in many whole grains like brown rice, barley and bulgur, plus most vegetables, including root veggies, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, green beans and zucchini.
Do you need to worry much about which type of high-fiber foods you’re getting? Not really — just make sure to eat a high-fiber diet with a variety of different whole fibrous foods to make sure you cover your bases for both. Unless you’re looking to improve a specific health condition, like constipation or high cholesterol, for example, you shouldn’t have a problem getting enough of both kinds if you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and beans.
The Top Foods for Your High-Fiber Diet
- Split Peas — 1 cup cooked: 16.3 grams
- Lentils — 1 cup cooked: 15.6 grams
- Black Beans — 1 cup cooked: 15 grams
- Mung Beans — 1 cup cooked: 15 grams
- Figs — 1 cup dried: 14.6 grams
- Lima Beans — 1 cup cooked: 13.2 grams
- Coconut Flour — 1/4 cup: 10 grams
- Artichoke — 1 artichoke: 8.7 grams
- Acorn Squash — 1 cup cooked: 9 grams
- Green Peas — 1 cup cooked: 8.8 grams
- Raspberries — 1 cup: 8 grams
- Blackberries — 1 cup: 7.6 grams
Other good runner-up sources include: chia seeds (5.5 grams per tablespoon), apples and pears (about 5 grams each), flaxseeds (3 grams per tablespoon), quinoa (5 grams per cup cooked), oats (5 grams per ½ cup uncooked), and all other types of beans/legumes like chickpeas (8 grams per cup cooked).