Last week, I discussed several conditions and circumstances where integrating more fiber would actually detriment oneself more than benefit, despite fiber’s functionality and role in physiological wellbeing. Some people cannot tolerate as much fiber for a certain period of time due to intestinal disorders that forbid otherwise or if they need to ingest a higher amount of calories for healthy weight gain (i.e. hypothalamic amenorrhea, ED recovery, etc.). Having said that, most people can afford to consume at least a little bit more.
Many of us are aware that fiber is mandatory for optimal gut health and imposes a massive influence in weight loss, severe disease prevention, metabolic performance, and feeling physically satisfied. Loading up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and on top of that, the SKINS of these foods, would provide more than plenty. On the flip side, there has been this new wave of health products and supplements (i.e. pills, gummies, powders like psyllium husk, Benefiber, and Meta-mucil) that have been fortified with various fibers–mostly insoluble, but some contain soluble–to further initiate the movement of elevated dietary fiber intake. Many look down on these fiber supplements because they are not natural and do not communicate with the body nearly as well as fiber found in whole foods.
Here is one issue: food deserts exist and execute a barrier from purchasing healthier food products for many across the nation. As a result, their residents often suffer the most healthwise. There have been solutions to improving easier access to healthy foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, one of them being supplemental fiber via high fiber cereals or other non-perishable food items. Beans, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables can help, but the former products necessitate a kitchen, a stovetop, time, and other appliances to cook these foods–not everyone has these or the time and energy to do so–and the latter two perish too quickly, plus not everyone has a fridge or freezer.
Just to nip this question in the bud, there are no adverse effects in using fiber supplements, even if the benefits are diminished. Whole foods is ideal, but not feasible for all. Anything helps. As long as your net carbohydrate intake remains around close to the exact amount to sustain your bodily functions and physical activity, your added sugar consumption is quantitatively low, and you are sufficiently hydrated, any form of fiber will not pose harm to your digestive system. HOWEVER. It is best to only implement these supplemental fibers around 1-3 times a week and rely mostly on fibers naturally occurring in whole foods.
Now that we have gotten that aspect out of the way, let’s dive into the main factors: how to consume more fiber without loathing your diet. Let’s be real–if you want to consume less fiber, it sounds more enjoyable and simple to many: replace whole grains with white grains (white Everything bagels–yummy!), consume your legumes in the forms of hummus and peanut butter (sold), and choosing vegan BBQ chicken drumsticks over BBQ tempeh slices (to be blunt, many people do not like tempeh). On the contrary, you can still consume delectably irresistible meals while increasing your fiber intake! Read below for some how-to’s!
- Do not overcook your vegetables. The fiber strength and overall content decrease as cooking temperature elevates and more starches are broken down. Boiling or frying your vegetables to a mush or to a crisp almost defeats the whole purpose of eating more antioxidants and fiber because they have already disappeared into the hot water and oil! This is one reason why steaming or light toasting is one of the healthiest cooking methods because the cellulose is shackled down ever so slightly without fully dismantling the vegetables, but allowing them to be easier to consume and digest.
- Consume more underripe fruits. Green-ish bananas may not taste as yummy, but they sure are much higher in resistant starch than their speckled yellow and brown counterparts! This also applies to many other fruits–when fruits ripen, their resistant starches decompose more in their rigidity, hence when ingested, function more as sugars than fibers. Don’t neglect that green banana so quickly–there are more than plenty of fun recipes to utilize them and enjoy their flavor (and resistant starch)!
- Cook your grains and starchy vegetables, but consume them AFTER chilling them. Trust me. This research article disseminates the presence and variances of resistant starches in countless food sources, including cooked and cooled starchy food products. Here’s the science: when amylose and amylopectin chains undergo retrogradation, they re-establish their polymer branching that was originally broken down. The webbing and interconnectedness of these chains are not the same as before, but still assert a type of fiber that persists well throughout digestive breakdown. A great way to integrate more resistant starch with cooled vegetables and grains would be a chilled potato salad, cooked-then-chilled oats, or cold bean curry.
- Swap animal proteins and gelling agents for plant-based ones. Face it, animal protein imposes more harm than good on the environment. Consider implementing more legumes or pulses such as lentils, black beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and black eyed peas into your weekly recipes instead of meats, poultry, and seafood. As for baking, how about using chia eggs or flax eggs instead of regular chicken eggs? You will find that these ingredients function pretty darn well in place of the animal-derived foods and provide ample nutrition at the same time. If you struggle with the palatability, there are plenty of recipes you can search up online to spice them up!
- Integrate fibers in condiments, dips, and sauces. It goes to show that oatmeal bowls, vegetable salads, and fruit plates are not the only ways to consume more fiber. If you really hate the taste of certain fibrous foods but want to acquire their health benefits (or at least more of them), why not sneak them into a more palatable form? Carrot hummus, oatmeal chia seed cookie butter, mango salsa, and fresh guacamole loaded with tomatoes and onions are some of the easiest techniques to load up these spreads and accompaniments. Bonus: swap the white/fried potato chips and crackers for whole grain and seed crackers, baked vegetable chips, or raw veggies for even more fiber!
- Same goes with smoothies, baked goods, and desserts! Shoutout to all the sweet tooth folks–it is even more exciting to incorporate high-fiber foods into your post-savory meal treats! Use whole grains or starchy vegetables or fruits as a base for your dessert if you can, but for an extra boost, try incorporating a seed-based gelling agent, starch, or a supplemental fiber to bulk it up–examples: oatmeal flax cookies with potato starch, a berry smoothie with acacia fiber, sweet potatoes or canned pumpkin instead of oil when baking muffins, or avocado mousse with cacao powder and high fiber maple syrup!
- When in doubt, swap it out. There is no exact “upper limit” to the amount of fiber consumed per day. Some people can tolerate +100 grams of fiber a day (not kidding–see the Hazda study), whereas others needs even less than the standard RDI of 25-38 grams. If you are uncertain about the amount of fiber you have consumed thus far in your day, there is little to no incentive to cut back unless you have been medically advised away from a high fiber diet. For instance, choose an apple for a snack instead of string cheese, or high fiber cereal and granola instead of corn or rice flakes. Just make sure to drink a little bit extra water if you feel like you have overshot a little bit.
- If you can, consume most of your fiber from whole foods, such as grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. As I mentioned before, supplemental fiber through bulk powders, pills, gummies, and root extracts can be beneficial if you have limited access and ability to storing perishable food items such as fruits and vegetables. For most of us, it’s best not to rely on these types of fibers daily because the naturally-occurring fibers just so happen to be present in nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.
- Never forget to drink plenty of water. As you increase your fiber intake, you need to do the same for hydration. For many, digestion can slow down with more fiber consumption, but this is generally due to inadequate water intake. Other beverages such as tea and juice can help, but water is the most optimal.
How do you like to consume more fiber?