Today I’m going to talk to you about one of the most beloved subjects of all time: fiber.
Wait! Don’t go! I swear, this is going to be fun!
I know fiber doesn’t have the sex appeal of, say, the ketogenic diet, the pegan (paleo + vegan) lifestyle, or mindful eating. (Although, let’s be honest: Does mindful eating really have sex appeal?) But it does provide a number of impressive health benefits, including promoting weight loss, reducing constipation, and slashing your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
And if you want to get trendy, fiber is also great for your gut health, which is great for your immune system, as Kathryn Harmon Courage explains in “What Your Microbiome Really Needs Is Fiber, Not Kombucha.”
Clearly, fiber is much more than a welcome addition to your bathroom routine. Yet few Americans get the recommended 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. I wanted to see if I could do it—without making any other changes to my diet. Here’s what I discovered.
Fiber requires planning
Virtually every diet involves eating plenty of fruits of vegetables, and a high-fiber diet is no exception. But just eating my normal dose of daily fruits and vegetables wasn’t going to get me to the 25-gram fiber mark. A medium apple, for example, has only four grams of fiber. Same for a banana, a cup of strawberries, and a cup of Brussels sprouts.
Four grams of fiber is still significant, but at that rate, I’d have to eat two of those fruits or vegetables at every meal to hit 25 grams. That’s a worthy goal, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to reach it—and even if I did, I’d still be one gram short for the day.
Instead, I decided to focus on the fruits and vegetables that pack the most fiber into one serving. I planned to eat at least one to two servings of those fruits and vegetables every day. For example, raspberries have eight grams of fiber per cup, and peas have nine grams per cup. Thus, these foods became important parts of my diet. All kinds of lentils and beans are also high in fiber—10 to 16 grams per cup—so I ate a lot of lentil soup, three bean chili, and Mexican food with refried beans.
Other surprisingly good sources of fiber include chia seeds (11 grams in two tablespoons), avocado (10 grams per cup), coconut (seven grams per cup), and 100 percent whole wheat spaghetti (six grams per serving).
I did best when I got my grams in early
I had the easiest time meeting my 25-gram fiber goal on days that I ate 12 to 15 grams of fiber at breakfast. My favorite meals included chia seed pudding topped with almonds and raspberries or two slices of a high-fiber bread (I like Dave’s Killer organic whole grain bread) topped with a few tablespoons of almond butter and raspberries.
I felt full for longer
That’s the promise of fiber, and I found that it definitely delivers.
I felt bloated—and also leaner
I became bloated and gassy, especially at the beginning. I worked my way up to meals with 12, 14, or 16 grams of fiber in them. I didn’t go for high fiber meals from the get-go.
Also, I found that eating a high fiber meal first thing in the morning meant the bloating feeling would dissipate sooner than if I ate a high fiber meal at dinnertime. The more consistent I was with my diet, the less bloated I eventually felt.
Interestingly, even if I did feel bloated after a meal, I still ended up feeling leaner overall. In other words, the bloating only lasted a short time.
I ate less sugar
I’ve always had a pretty healthy eating style, but sugar is my weakness. I knew that if I had any chance of sticking with this approach for the long term, it would have to be without any other food restrictions. So I let myself eat whatever I wanted, as long as I got my 25 grams of fiber in every day.
The result? I ate less sugar.
I have a few theories as to why. For one, eating a lot of fiber made me feel full. Even if I ate a brownie or piece of cake, I didn’t tend to go overboard on sweets. Also, fiber is found in nutrient-dense foods. When I consumed more nutrients, I experienced fewer cravings. I didn’t feel tired or in need of an afternoon pick-me-up like I did before my experimental fiber month.
I didn’t get obsessive about it
There are a lot of articles about soluble and insoluble fiber, with an emphasis on consuming insoluble fiber for promoting regularity and consuming soluble fiber for preventing heart disease.
I did a bit of my own research and learned that there are actually nine different types of fiber. During my fiber month, I didn’t get caught up in trying to consume resistant starch or getting my fiber from cruciferous vegetables. While I’m sure each type of fiber has unique benefits, the bottom line is that all fiber is good for you.
Natural sources are best, but processed fiber works too
I tried to get my fiber from whole foods rather than supplements or processed foods or bars because I felt like natural whole foods would be better for me.
Still, there were times when I succumbed to the convenience of processed foods (mostly high fiber cereals and bars). I still reaped some (perhaps even all) of the benefits fiber offers, like eased digestion. However, many processed high fiber foods have questionable ingredients.
For example, while Fiber One Honey Clusters cereal has a healthy 10 grams of fiber per cup, it also has four kinds of sugar, including sugar, brown sugar, honey, and corn syrup. That can’t be good. Fortunately, there are lower-sugar, natural and organic high-fiber cereals, bars, cookies, and pastas available.
It did promote regularity
No big surprise: Fiber makes you poop. In my case, my system still needed a few days to adjust to the higher intake of fiber in order to get into a good rhythm. But after that, the fiber did its job exactly as promised.