Fiber: you’ve heard of it, you know it’s good for you, you probably don’t want to mix a cement-colored blend of it into your morning glass of water. We hear you. But in case you’ve been slacking on the stuff, you should know that it’s made news again. Recently, a meta-analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization and published in the leading medical journal The Lancet found a 15-30% reduction in overall deaths for people who ate enough fiber. Talk about a super nutrient. Here’s what you should know.
Basically, fiber is the indigestible content of carbohydrates. Instead of being broken down and absorbed by our intestines, it’s passed on to add bulk to our stools or to feed our gut bacteria. You could say that fiber acts as an ‘intestinal cleanser’ by moving waste quickly through our colon and helping our body increase the size and frequency of our bowel movements, which improves our gut and bowel health.
Beyond being regular, fiber increases satiety and helps prevent overeating. Fiber-rich foods also encourage the production of short-chain fatty acids, which happen when friendly gut bacteria ferment fiber in our colon. (It’s like kombucha that your body makes!) These short-chain fatty acids have been shown to help with digestive disorders and reduce overall gut inflammation.
But the health benefits of fiber extend far beyond our stomachs. Case in point: fiber leads to a healthier heart. One study found that an additional 10 grams of fiber a day reduced coronary events (aka things like heart attacks) by 14 percent. Fiber also seems to be useful for type 2 diabetes patients by delaying the absorption of carbs from the small intestine and improving insulin levels. People with high-fiber diets even have a reduced risk for colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer in the U.S.
Most people across the globe consume less than 20 grams of fiber per day, often way less, which doesn’t measure up to the 30 grams recommended per day.
The good news is that it’s easy and achievable to meet the recommended daily intake. A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, unrefined grains and legumes – not unlike the meals on Centr – is a great way of achieving optimal fiber intake.
Just one thing: If you’re not used to consuming many vegetables, legumes and fruits, you may notice a significant increase in flatulence and bloating. Often, people are so discouraged by these slight discomforts that they switch back to their usual diet.
Incorporate as many plant-based foods as possible in your diet and you’ll seamlessly be able to hit 30 grams of dietary fiber every day.
Want to start now? Try my Mexican Black Bean Burger.
You can tough out the gassy gut for a while and wait for the symptoms to resolve themselves, which they typically do after a short period. Or if you want to skip the discomfort, here’s how:
Increase your fiber intake gradually, adding 2-4 grams more every day until you reach the recommended 30 grams a day.Use moderate portions for any foods that give you trouble and slowly increase the amount you eat of them over time.
Try to establish a daily bowel routine to prevent constipation (e.g. every morning).
Soak dry legumes and make sure you cook them fully. If using canned legumes, make sure you rinse them thoroughly.
Chew well, eat slowly and avoid straws and carbonated beverages – these will help diminish the air you swallow and will overall improve your digestion.
Lastly, if symptoms don’t disappear after some time, there may be other causes behind your discomfort. Depending on the severity, schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule everything else out.
At the end of the day, the science is simple: where populations consume an abundance of fiber, diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer – so-called “Western Diseases” – are much less common.
Simon Hill is making plant-based nutrition simple and accessible through his Plant Proof podcast and with delicious recipes on Centr. A sports physiotherapist and nutritionist, he holds a Bachelor of Physiotherapy and a postgraduate degree in nutrition. He is the author of The Proof is in the Plants and the creator of our favorite vegan burgers.
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