Week 30 Tip: The Health Benefits of Fiber

By: Carla Meine CFNC

| July 21, 2022

Welcome back, everyone! Can you believe we are on Week 30 of our Full Year of Resolutions? This week’s More Than Healthy Tip is all about the health benefits of fiber. I know, fiber (and the closely-related topics of what’s going on in your intestines and colon and – yep, you know we’re going there, bowel movements) is not the sexiest of topics. But it affects everything from your waistline to your heart, and getting enough fiber is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

If you’re like most of my clients, you’re probably thinking, “I know, I know, I need more fiber!” But you might not exactly know how to do that. That isn’t all your fault. The food industry has tried to fool you by putting high fiber in many processed foods. The problem is, the benefits you should get from the additional fiber are negated by the amount of sugar, carbs, and bad oils they’ve added in the processing. 

So let’s clear up the myths and learn why fiber is so vital to your health, how much you need, and how you can easily add it to your diet.

Why is fiber so important, anyway?

Dietary fiber is one of those “do-it-all” nutrients with many health benefits. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is resistant to digestion and absorption. Also known as roughage or bulk, fiber includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins, or carbohydrates – which your body breaks down and absorbs – fiber isn’t digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach and ends up in the colon, where it feeds friendly gut bacteria.

Fiber is necessary for gut health. It also helps promote healthy weight loss, lowers blood sugar, and keeps you regular. Fiber is the equivalent of a colon cleaner, acting a lot like a scrub brush that cleans out bacteria and other buildup in your intestines, reducing your risk for colon cancer. (We’ll talk more about the specific benefits of fiber later.) But even though fiber is so important for our health, very few of us get enough of it. In fact, it’s estimated that 95% of Americans don’t get nearly enough fiber in their diets. 

The health benefits of fiber in food 

Some of you might be like my husband, David, who used to believe that high-fiber foods were things like his raisin bran and frosted mini wheat. He had no idea that along with some fiber, he was also consuming so many sugars and ingredients that his body was sensitive to, he was having chronic inflammation as a result. That inflammation led to many illnesses and constant pain.

Thankfully, now he understands that the list of foods that are high in fiber is much different than he used to think. And he’s learned to enjoy eating them with minimal ingredients added. The truth is, the best way to get more fiber in your diet is with whole foods prepared with very few additions. 

We’ve included a chart of high-fiber foods toward the end of this post, but some of our favorites include avocados (David eats these almost every day), strawberries, bananas, artichokes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chia seeds, dark chocolate, raspberries, apples, pears, beets, carrots, split peas, gluten-free oats, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, leeks, celery, baked potato, mushrooms, green beans, and popcorn. There really are so many great options for healthy and delicious high-fiber foods to choose from.

Types of fiber 

Let’s talk about soluble and insoluble fiber, as each type has its own distinct benefits, and some examples of each. Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. Because it absorbs water so well, soluble fiber helps slow the digestion of carbs, preventing sudden spikes in blood glucose levels. This viscous fiber also helps lower cholesterol by acting like a sponge that binds to cholesterol and fat in your food, carrying them out of your body. Studies show it helps lower blood pressure as well. 

Soluble fiber

Soluble fiber may also help manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you have IBS or other gastrointestinal problems, add fiber to your diet slowly. And be sure to drink plenty of water alongside your fiber as well. You can find soluble fiber in many plant-based foods, like beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, oats, peas, etc.

Insoluble Fiber

Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Rather, it assists in moving material through your digestive system and helps increase stool bulk. It draws water to the colon, which makes stools softer and easier to pass. It’s found in the tough and chewy parts of fruits and vegetables, like carrot peels, broccoli stems, and apple skins. You can also find insoluble fiber in nuts, green beans, potatoes, and oat and wheat bran.

Both of these types of fiber work together to provide important benefits for our bodies. They help control our cholesterol levels and keep our digestive systems running well.

Now, let’s take a closer look at four powerful health benefits that a fiber-rich diet provides.

Four health benefits of fiber

Benefit #1: Regular bowel movements

I know, here we are talking about bowel movements again! There’s just no way around it; our stools provide important insight into “what’s going on in there.” Journaling the foods you eat and about your stools afterward (more on this in a future tip) gives you so much information about how those foods are affecting you. 

The number one reason I have my clients eat more fiber is to help with regular bowel movements. Most of them simply aren’t getting enough fiber in their diets to have healthy bowel movements as often as they should. You should be having at least one bowel movement a day, and two is even better. For most of my clients, adding fiber and cutting out processed foods will have an immediate, positive effect on their bowel movements. 

You might be surprised to learn that dietary fiber is also known to be an effective treatment for the opposite problem. Fiber can help treat IBS, which causes bowel problems like constipation, diarrhea, and bloating, Fiber has a unique ability to both slow gastrointestinal transit time (thus treating diarrhea) while stimulating gastrointestinal motility (thus treating constipation). 

How it works

We talked about this above in the explanation about soluble and insoluble fiber, but fiber is key to making your intestines work properly. Fiber helps matter move through your intestines, which in turn helps signal that you are full. It also aids in keeping stools soft and well-formed, reducing constipation and other bowel issues.

Eating sufficient fiber helps strengthen the lining of your colon. It also lowers your risk of hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

Benefit #2: Fiber helps lowers blood cholesterol levels

Good soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is something we hear about so often, but do we know what those levels mean? Let’s take a minute and do a mini-lesson on cholesterol – the good and the bad – and how to interpret the numbers.

Cholesterol: A quick breakdown

Your liver naturally produces cholesterol, and your body uses it to maintain the structure of cell membranes and make important things like vitamin D and certain hormones. Cholesterol doesn’t travel through the blood, however, because fat and water don’t mix. So the liver makes lipoproteins, which transport cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat) through the bloodstream.

A cholesterol test looks at your levels of:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). This is the “bad” cholesterol, which can lead to plaque buildup in arteries and result in heart disease and stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL). This is the “good” cholesterol, and high levels actually lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Triglycerides. A type of fat in the blood used for energy. High levels of triglycerides combined with low HDL or high LDL increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Total cholesterol accounts for all cholesterol in your blood based on HDL, LDL, and triglyceride numbers.

Healthy cholesterol levels

Dr. Gundry, with whom we’ve worked closely on our health, recommends the following levels: 

  • LDL levels should be less than 130 mg/dL.
  • HDL levels should be above 40 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides should be between 40-50 mg/dL.
  • Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL.

How it works

Eating fiber lowers cholesterol levels by decreasing the amount of LDL cholesterol that is absorbed into your bloodstream. It does this as it forms that gel-like substance in your intestines and starts slowing down digestion. It also traps cholesterol and prevents your body from reabsorbing it into your bloodstream. The trapped cholesterol is then excreted from your body in your stool. So if you have high cholesterol, try adding more good soluble fiber to your diet and see what happens.  

David and I have watched our cholesterol numbers just keep going down as we add more fiber without adding the sugar, bad fats, and unhealthy carbs. The body is amazing. It responds quickly when we give it what it really needs to function well. Take a look at this compelling example:

David: A case study

David went 100% all in on our More Than Healthy program over two years ago. He cut out all foods he was sensitive to and added more fiber. At that time, his total cholesterol was 195, which is considered within normal range, but the problem was his bad cholesterol, or LDL, was 147. Our doctor wanted it under 130. In addition, his triglycerides were 143. Our doctor wants that number between 40-50, so this was a real concern. His good cholesterol, or HDL, was 44, so he had some work to do.

Two years later, his total cholesterol is down to 192. His triglycerides are at 79 (not where he wants to be, but so much better), his bad cholesterol (LDL) is down to 116 (within normal range now), and his good cholesterol has gone up to 58. All of these great changes happened without having to use medications. He just made some diet and lifestyle changes.

Even my numbers moved positively during that period, and I wasn’t nearly as strict with my dietary changes as David was. My total cholesterol went from 246 to 231 (I still want that lower). Bad cholesterol or LDL went from 143 to 123, and my good cholesterol or HDL from 89 to 95 (I’m really happy with that number). But the best number is my triglycerides. They’ve gone from 46 to 44. That’s within the range my doctor wants, and as long as this number is in that range he doesn’t worry about cholesterol over 200, because we need cholesterol for our brains.

The numbers don’t lie

The bottom line? All of our numbers improved, and the numbers don’t lie. David had small gains when he was 80-90% compliant. But since he fully committed to his healthier lifestyle and went all in, we’ve seen every number improve. And, as those numbers have improved, he no longer lives with chronic pain. He feels so much better.

Benefit #3: Fiber helps control blood sugar

Eating foods that are fiber-rich interferes with sugar absorption. This helps keep your blood glucose levels more even. Because fiber is a type of carbohydrate the body can’t digest, it doesn’t get broken down into sugar molecules. Instead, it passes through the body undigested. This gives your gut time to communicate with your brain that you are full and it’s time to stop eating. 

Fiber also helps regulate the body’s use of other sugars. It balances our blood sugar and insulin response, which stabilizes our appetite and promotes fat burning instead of fat storage. A recent analysis of 19 scientific studies found that people who eat more than 26 grams of fiber a day lowered their odds of type 2 diabetes by 18% compared to those who consumed less than 19 grams of fiber a day. Researchers attribute this to fiber’s ability to keep blood sugar levels steady and keep you at a healthy weight.

The benefits of blood sugar monitoring

David and I have a perfect example of this. Last year David and I took a month and really watched our blood sugar while we did our elimination protocol. We started with More Than Healthy’s Level 1, and cut out all sugar, gluten, dairy, eggs, poultry, and all meats. Each week we went up a level, slowly adding food groups back into our meal plan. As we did this, we tracked our blood sugar with a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM. We added that information to our food journals.

A blueberry pancake problem

It was fascinating to see how our blood sugars responded to different foods. It also confirmed that the recipes I’ve developed for our program do not spike your blood sugar, with one exception. David loves my blueberry pancakes. I make them gluten-free, and he drizzles a little pure maple syrup over them. He looked at his monitor after eating some pancakes, and his glucose had gone from 95 to 195, which was a big jump. 

Since those pancakes are one of his favorite brunch foods, I tried an experiment. The next time I made those pancakes for brunch, I had him eat half an avocado before. Not only are avocados a healthy fat, they also have 10 grams of fiber per cup. This time, after eating his pancakes, David’s blood sugar didn’t spike at all. It just went up the normal 20-30 points it usually does after eating. 

Again, the numbers don’t lie. Those numbers made us both believers. Now we always eat some avocado before pancakes, because that wonderful fiber keeps our blood sugar in check.

Blood glucose monitors

I think wearing a CGM for a month was one of the more fascinating and beneficial things we’ve done to track the effect food has on our body, and I highly recommend it. You can get a glucose monitoring system where you prick your finger on Amazon. Finger pokes involve a bit of pain and extra work, but it is effective and inexpensive. You can also ask your doctor to write a prescription for it. We got a FreeStyle Libre that was very affordable at Costco. This is a product you wear that gives you a constant readout.

There are also companies whose programs now include a CGM as part of their protocol. Some good options include Nutrisense, Signos, Veri, and Levels Health. You wear the CGM and use an app that shows your blood glucose levels. You can track it throughout the day and see how food, sleep, exercise, and stress impact your blood glucose in real-time. 

Numbers = Knowledge

It’s a really good idea to watch it after you eat. Watch to see how long it takes for your levels to increase after a meal, what makes levels spike, how high does your blood sugar go, and how long does it stay high? You’ll also want to watch it first thing in the morning, when you’re fasting, and throughout the night. It will tell you a lot about your health and what the foods you are eating are doing to your system. Like I said, fascinating! Knowing what’s going on with your blood sugar levels is very empowering, and enables you to make informed choices specific for your body’s health.

Benefit #4: Fiber helps protect your heart

As fiber prevents your body from taking in cholesterol and certain fats, it helps lower your triglyceride and cholesterol levels. This helps reduce your risk of heart disease.  All the things we talked about above translate into this benefit. Fiber helps to move unhealthy foods through your system and out your colon, so they don’t have a chance to do the big damage they will do if left unchecked. 

Research consistently shows that people who eat high-fiber diets are at lower risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact, for every 7 grams of fiber eaten daily, your risk of heart disease drops by 9 percent. That’s because fiber is a rockstar at soaking up cholesterol and getting it out of your system, before it has a chance to clog your arteries.

Research also shows that people who consume diets high in fiber are at lower risk for certain types of cancer as well. One study shows that dietary fiber intake is proportional to the risk of colorectal cancer. In other words, a high-fiber diet is low risk, and gets lower the more fiber you eat, whereas a low-fiber diet is high risk, with risk increasing as fiber intake decreases. Another study shows that a balanced diet that includes sufficient fiber can help reduce your risk of bowel cancer.

How much fiber do I need?

Now that I’ve convinced you how important fiber really is, you might be wondering how much fiber should I be getting? Here’s what’s recommended:

Age Male Female
50 and younger 38 grams of fiber per day 25  grams of fiber per day
51 or older 30 grams of fiber per day 21 grams of fiber per day

This breaks down to about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume daily. 

High fiber foods

Fortunately, increasing your fiber intake is relatively easy — simply include high-fiber foods into your diet. There are so many options, and they are delicious all on their own. Don’t buy that “high fiber brownie” from the store. Sure, it might have a little extra fiber in it, but it’s highly processed and full of unhealthy oils and extra sugars, too. Instead, include fresh fruits and veggies or a handful of nuts throughout the day. 

Below is a chart we’ve put together with some great options for adding fiber to your meal plan.

High Fiber Foods Chart

Food Amount of Fiber Notes
Pears 3.1 grams per 100 grams About 5.5 grams of fiber in a medium-sized pear, raw
Avocado 6.7 grams per 100 grams 10 grams of fiber in 1 cup of avocado
Strawberries 2 grams per 100 grams 3 grams of fiber in 1 cup of fresh strawberries
Raspberries 6.5 grams per 100 grams 8 grams of fiber in 1 cup of raw raspberries
Apples 2.4 grams per 100 grams 4.4 grams of fiber in a medium-sized apple
Bananas 2.6 grams per 100 grams 3.1 grams of fiber in a medium-sized banana
Carrots 2.8 grams per 100 grams 3.6 grams of fiber in 1 cup of raw carrots
Beets 2.8 grams per 100 grams 3.8 grams of fiber in 1 cup of raw beets
Broccoli  2.6 grams per 100 grams 2.4 grams of fiber in 1 cup
Artichoke 5.4 grams per 100 grams 6.9 grams of fiber in 1 raw artichoke
Brussel sprouts 3.8 grams per 100 grams 3.3 grams of fiber in 1 cup of raw sprouts
Lentils  7.3 grams per 100 grams 13.1 grams of fiber per cup of cooked lentils
Kidney beans 6.8 grams per 100 grams 12.2 grams of fiber per cup of cooked beans
Split peas 8.3 grams per 100 grams 16.3 grams of fiber per cup of cooked split peas
Chickpeas 7 grams per 100 grams 12.5 grams of fiber per cup of cooked chickpeas
Black beans 8.7 grams per 100 grams 15 grams of fiber per cup of cooked black beans
Edamame 5.2 grams per 100 grams 8 grams of fiber per cup of edamame
Lima beans 7 grams per 100 grams 9 grams of fiber per cup of cooked lima beans
Baked beans 5.5 grams per 100 grams 13.92 grams of fiber per cup of canned baked beans
Quinoa 2.8 grams per 100 grams 5.2 grams of fiber per cup of cooked quinoa
Oats 10.1 grams per 100 grams 16.5 grams of fiber per cup of raw oats
Popcorn 14.4 grams per 100 grams 1.15 grams of fiber per cup of air-popped popcorn. Note: If you add lots of fat to your popcorn, the fiber-to-calorie ratio decreases significantly
Almonds  13.3 grams per 100 grams 4 grams of fiber per 3 tablespoons
Chia seeds 34.4 grams per 100 grams 9.75 grams of fiber per ounce of dried chia seeds
Pistachios  10 grams per 100 grams 13 grams of fiber in 1 cup of pistachios
Sunflower seeds 11.1 grams per 100 grams 12 grams of fiber in 1 cup of sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds 6,.5 grams per 100 grams 12 grams of fiber in 1 cup of pumpkin seeds
Sweet potatoes 2.5 grams per 100 grams 1 medium boiled sweet potato (without skin) has 3.8 grams of fiber
Dark chocolate 10.9 grams per 100 grams 3.1 grams of fiber in a 1-ounce of 70-85% cacao
Butternut squash 3 grams per 100 grams 7 grams of fiber per cup of cooked squash
Kale 3 grams per 100 grams 5 grams of fiber per cup of cooked kale 1.34 of fiber per cup of raw kale
Spinach 2 grams per 100 grams 4 grams of fiber per cup of cooked spinach

 

For a list of 200 fiber-rich vegetables, click here.

Some delicious and fiber-rich recipes to try

I hope you’ll try to add a variety of fiber-rich foods to your diet as often as possible. On our More Than Healthy website, we’ve compiled a repository of yummy and healthy recipes, many of which use high-fiber foods. These recipes are easy to follow and make it simple to add fiber and other healthy foods to your meal plan.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Broccoli Salad

Guacamole

Roasted Beet Salad 

Peach Porridge

Supergreen Salad

Baked Halibut with Asparagus

Spring Farmers Market Salad

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

How will you access the health benefits of fiber?

Do you have any favorite high-fiber foods? Which foods from the high-fiber foods chart can you add to your diet? If you try one of my recipes, be sure to let me know what you think. We always love to hear from you! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. It’s our passion to help others on their journey to optimal health.

For those of you interested in our free More Than Healthy coaching calls, we do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. In fact, our next one is tomorrow night, July 26th. Anyone can join us.  If you have health questions on anything we’ve discussed or really any issue you can ask it live, you can type it in comments, or you can just listen in as others get coached. If you’d like to join us, just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list or watch our social media pages and we will have the link there.  

Thanks, everyone! We’ll see you next week.  

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