Here are the 5 foods to eat as a priority if you lack fiber

You know proteins, carbohydrates and lipids, because they are the subject of all attention. Fiber, on the other hand, goes unnoticed, but if social network X's predictions are to be believed, it is on the verge of becoming the flagship macronutrient of the moment. All this to say that most people neglect their fiber consumption. Recent research estimates that only 5% of Americans consumed the recommended amount in their diet daily. By neglecting this nutrient, they are depriving themselves of some major health benefits.

“There are so many benefits to fiber,” says Kelly LeVeque, CCN, author and holistic health coach who has worked with the likes of Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba, and Emmy Rossum. “They normalize bowel movements and prevent constipation, maintain gut health, reduce cholesterol, inflammation and blood pressure to promote heart health, help control blood sugar levels and increase satiety to manage weight and hunger.”

What is a fiber?

Technically, it's a type of carbohydrate. “Dietary fiber, also called 'roughage' or 'bulk', includes the parts of plant foods that your body cannot digest or absorb,” explains the expert. “Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or other carbohydrates, which the body breaks down and absorbs, fiber is not digested by the body.” Even though the body doesn't digest fiber itself, its presence in our diet helps the digestive system function optimally, says Maggie Berghoff, functional medicine nurse practitioner and author of the book. Eat to Treat.

According to Kelly LeVeque, this is because fiber acts as prebiotics, promoting the growth and health of good bacteria in the gut: “The human gastrointestinal tract is home to a complex community of microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiota or microbiome. This community includes bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes. When we consume dietary fiber, it is transported to the colon without being digested, where it becomes a source of nutrition for the intestinal microbiota.”

The coach explains that undigested fiber is converted into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the intestine: “These short-chain fatty acids play an essential role in gut health and general health, because they act as a source of energy, maintain intestinal barrier function, fight inflammation and support our immune system.”

What is the difference between insoluble fiber and soluble fiber?

These two types of dietary fiber each have a role to play. “Soluble fiber attracts water and turns into a gel during digestion, slowing it down,” says Kelly LeVeque. Soluble fiber is found in foods like beans, lentils, nuts, and some fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fiber, for their part, “increase the volume of stools and make them pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines,” continues the expert. Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as whole grains, vegetables and wheat bran.

The health benefits of fiber

As has already been said, dietary fiber is excellent for the intestine: it regulates bowel movements and helps prevent bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort. But the benefits don't stop there. Research shows that fiber supports metabolic health by helping regulate blood sugar and promoting the release of gut hormones, adipokines (a type of anti-inflammatory protein), and bile acids. All of these factors contribute to the onset of type 2 diabetes; thus, fiber protects against disease. Diets high in fiber are also associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.

How much fiber should you consume?

Maggie Berghoff notes that the recommended amount of fiber varies depending on gender and daily calorie intake. In France, the official recommendation is to reach 25 grams of fiber per day, and if possible 30. “If you consume between 25 and 35 grams of fiber per day, you are in pretty good shape,” says the nurse. Bloating, constipation (and hemorrhoids), irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulitis are all signs of insufficient fiber intake, adds Kelly LeVeque.

Fiber-rich foods to add to your shopping list

The coach recommends eating whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds before resorting to dietary supplements. “By taking a holistic approach to nutrition,” she says, “I find that incorporating these healthy options not only contributes to my daily fiber intake, but also offers a myriad of other essential nutrients.” Here are the 5 foods to eat to benefit from the benefits of dietary fiber.

1. Fruit

“Fruit often gets a bad rap among dieters because of its sugar content, but it's high in fiber,” says Maggie Berghoff. “I want you to eat fiber, fruits and vegetables, preferably with the skin. When you juice them, most of the fiber disappears and all that’s left is the sugar, which spikes insulin levels.” Kelly LeVeque says her favorite fruits are berries and avocados (yes, avocado is a fruit). Pears, apples, kiwis and pomegranates are also high in fiber.

2. Vegetables

It may come as a surprise, but fiber is another reason to eat green vegetables. Peas (8.8 grams of fiber per serving) and broccoli (5.2 grams) are very high in fiber, according to Maggie Berghoff. Other fiber-rich vegetables recommended by experts are cruciferous vegetables (kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts), carrots and sweet corn. Artichokes also top the list of high-fiber foods (9.6 grams per serving), and potatoes and sweet potatoes are also excellent sources. It is recommended to cook most vegetables to maximize their fiber content (although in some cases it is better to eat them raw, such as red peppers, carrots and jicama, also called potato peas).

3. Beans and legumes

Protein-rich beans and legumes include white beans, lima beans, mung beans, lentils and chickpeas. Each of them contains 7 to 9 grams of fiber per standard serving.

4. Whole grains

According to Maggie Berghoff, oats are the best way to easily reach your fiber goals. “Most people eat oats in some form, and they're a very good, high-fiber choice.” Many ready-to-eat cereals are also high in fiber, including bran flakes. Whole wheat pasta, quinoa, bulgur, spelt and barley are also whole grains high in fiber (3 to 7 grams per serving).

5. Nuts and seeds

In addition to being high in fiber, nuts and seeds are popular with Kelly LeVeque because they “provide a satisfying crunch and healthy fats.” Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, coconut, almonds and chestnuts top the list of fiber-rich foods. Chia seeds, which are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and promote hydration by absorbing water, are an easy way to add fiber to your meal. “Chia seeds are my secret sauce,” says Maggie Berghoff. “I put them in drinks and in dishes.”

What about fiber-based food supplements?

Nutrition experts including Maggie Berghoff and Kelly LeVeque say it's best to get your nutrients from whole foods. If this is difficult or impossible for you, you can supplement your diet with powdered fiber, from a source such as psyllium, inulin or methylcellulose. “It's a ritual in my house: I add organic psyllium powder to my smoothie every day as my main source of fiber, because it provides six grams of soluble fiber in one serving,” says Kelly LeVeque.

Remember to consult your doctor before adding any dietary supplements to your diet. Even something as harmless as fiber can exacerbate certain health conditions or impact treatments you take.

Originally published on GQ US

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