I often joke that one of the reasons I applied to a nutrition program after having studied Pharmacy was that I was tired of telling constipated patients to “eat more fiber” without being able to give them concrete examples. Aside from “replace white bread by whole grain”, I wasn’t of much help to my patients who just wanted to go to the loo.
How much fiber you should be eating
Jokes asides, fiber is essential for proper gut health and lowering your risks of chronic diseases. Men and women under the age of 50 need to consume 38g and 25g of fiber daily respectively.1 Unfortunately, the average daily intake of US adults is 15 to 19g,1 meaning we’re falling 10-23 g short of reaching our goals.
However, don’t despair! Eating more fiber can easily be achieved by making small but impactful changes to your diet. In the article below, I share with you 6 practical tips to increase your daily intake of fiber that go beyond the “switch to whole grain” advice.
Tips for eating more fiber
1) Choose beans as a source of protein
Although a rich source of protein, animal products contain 0 g of fiber. If you aren’t vegan or following a plant-based diet, try replacing meat by beans several times per week. A cup of cooked lentils contains an impressive 16 g of fiber!2 In addition, it’s rich in iron, zinc and contains zero cholesterol. Beans taste great in chilis, curries, hummus and topped over salads.
Here are some recipes to get you started:
- Comforting sweet potato and kale curry
- Sweet potato black bean burger
- 5-ingredient sweet potato black bean chili
- Glowing Spiced Lentil soup
- The Best Lentil Salad, ever
Another fun way of incorporating beans to your diet is using legume pasta. I love the variety offered by Chickapea pasta. Each serving (85g, about 1/3 of the box) contains 11g of fiber, 23 g of protein, 40% of your iron daily intake and 30% of your daily zinc needs.
If you’re new to beans, start with lentils which are easy to digest and cause less gas and bloating.
2) Follow the Carb to Fiber ratio of 5 or less
This advice comes from Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die (I always found this title to be a little off-putting!). Many processed items such as bread, crackers or cereal are marketed as high in fiber, but this claim isn’t regulated in Canada nor the US. So, it’s up to us to be savvy consumers in order not to fall for marketing hogwash!
To ensure you aren’t eating empty carbs, one tip is to make sure the carbohydrate to fiber ratio of the product is below 5. Using the example of my favorite Finn Crisp crackers, a serving of two crackers contains 17g of carbohydrates and 4g of fiber. The carbs to fiber ratio is 4.25, and therefore passes the test. As I usually eat around 6 crackers as a snack, I’m getting around 12g of fiber with little effort!
Once I became familiar with this tip, I noticed that several crackers in the health food stores have a ratio ranging from 10 to 20 (you’re getting very little bang for your buck). Like I said, it’s up to us to read the labels.
While I don’t think there’s any scientific data behind this ratio, it common sense that you would want to eat a nutrient-dense source of carbohydrates to contribute to your daily fiber needs.
3) Sneak veggies in errthang
Aside from filling up half of your plates with vegetables, consider sneaking them into your smoothies or your pastry recipes. Think zucchini banana breads and beet fudge muffins! You may be skeptical, but adding a zucchini or beets to your recipe can add tons of moisture and reduce the need for butter without overpowering the taste. As for the smoothies, I like to throw in baby spinach to my berry smoothies or simply make a green smoothie with leftover veggies.
Here are some recipes from my favorite Minimalist Baker to inspire you:
4) Choose seeds over oil
While hemp, walnut and flaxseed oil are an important source of omega-3, they contain 0g of fibers. Therefore, if the recipe allows for it, substitute the oils by the whole seeds or nuts.
For example, I used to add flaxseed oil to my smoothies to increase the absorption of my liposoluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). Nowadays, I put 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds in my smoothies and they taste just as good as before (they’re simply a little thicker). As for hemps seeds and walnut, they make delicious toppings for morning oats or on top of savoury dishes.
5) Choose smoothies over pressed juices
Here’s an easy tip that needs little explanation. While fleshly cold-pressed juices are rich in vitamins, virtually all the fiber has been removed. Therefore, a simple switch would be to favour smoothies, which contain the whole fruit or vegetable.
6) Leave the peel on
Often, half of the fruit and vegetable’s fiber is contained in the peel. For example, one small apple with the skin contains 3 g of fiber3, while a peeled small apple contains 1.4g4. Thus, leave the peel on and buy organic (to avoid pesticides that can be found on the peel) when possible.
Take it slow
If you suspect you’re on the lower spectrum of fiber intake, I recommend you start increasing your daily fiber SLOWLY. This will help avoid upsetting your gastrointestinal system which could result in you feeling bloated, gassy or experiencing diarrhea. For example, implement one new strategy from the list above every 2-3 days and see how your body reacts to it.
If you have constipation, it is important to increase your fluid intake when you eat more fiber.
I hope this article was helpful to you! If you’re a healthcare professional, these are simple and practical tips you can give to your patients. As usual, if you think this article could help someone, please share it with them!
References cited in this article:
1) Dunford M and Doyle J. A. Nutrition for Sport and Exercise, Third Edition. Cengage Learning, 2015. P. 135