Updated: Sep 23, 2022
By now, you've most likely heard that fiber is important. Of course, it's important for good digestion, but it's essential for so much more. For example, fiber is the foundation for a healthy gut. You can take all of the probiotics in the world, but, without fiber, those probiotics can't do their job (probiotics need fiber to eat in order to survive). Fiber also helps to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and manage blood sugar. It helps to balance hormones, like hunger hormones, estrogen, and insulin. Fiber may also improve skin health. All of these benefits, and yet less than 5% of Americans get the recommended amount of fiber each day (which is approximately 30-40 grams a day).
Fiber is only found in plant-based foods. Perhaps you're trying to add more plants to your plate, but how do you know if you're getting enough fiber? And, if you're not getting enough, what's the best way to increase it?
How to Determine if You're Getting Enough Fiber
I don't typically recommend counting anything when it comes to food—not calories, not sugar, and not fat. Getting fixated on numbers can backfire, creating stress and a restrictive diet mentality, resulting in the opposite of your goal, whether it's weight management, disease prevention, or boosting mood. I do recommend adding colorful plant-based foods to your plate that will naturally crowd out those foods that are not serving you. That said, I do recommend counting fiber intake, just this once, to see where you stand. There are apps or websites like cronometer.com and MyFitnessPal.com that accurately calculate nutrient intake when you enter your food.
So, for just one typical day or, better yet, for a three-day period, write down everything you eat from condiments to beverages to meals to snacks. Don't forget a thing! It all counts. Enter each day into cronometer or My Fitness Pal to see how much fiber you're getting. This will be your baseline.
If it's less than 15 grams: Hey, it's a start!
If it's 15 grams a day: You're halfway there.😃
If it's 16-25 grams: You're getting close!
If it's over 25 grams: Sweet! You're doing great. (And don't be afraid to add a little more if you're experiencing constipation, hormonal imbalance, weight or blood sugar management issues.)
How to Increase Fiber Intake
Do it slowly. Since we don't have enzymes to break down fiber, it's not digested and passes through whole. If you increase fiber too quickly it can cause discomfort, like bloating and gas pains. Since it passes through our gastrointestinal system whole it grabs toxins and carcinogenic compounds along the way (a good thing!), which will then be excreted with it. Once it reaches our large intestine, the healthy bacteria in our guts start munching away. Fiber is what helps the healthy bacteria thrive. Sometimes, this process can cause gassiness, especially if you're introducing new types of plant-based foods to your plate or increasing portion sizes of plant-based foods you already enjoy. Expect that you may experience a little gassiness and know that it takes a little time for your body to adapt before it subsides. For some, it's a few days and for others it's a few weeks. Be patient. You could try something like Beano, which will help to minimize the gassiness as you go through this adaptive phase.
Phew, it's sounds like a lot of work just to boost fiber! Is it really worth it? If you want to manage weight, inflammation, hormones, blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, Alzheimer's disease prevention, constipation, mood, anxiety, sleep, skin health, and overall health—then, yes, it's worth the short term discomfort for a lifetime of health, vibrancy, and happiness.
I do have a few tips as you start to boost fiber intake:
Go slow with portion size and variety. If you're trying a new plant-based food, start with a small portion size or one new food a week to see how you tolerate it before adding more. For example, if you start adding beans to your plate, start with just a few tablespoons or 1/4 cup. If you can tolerate this amount okay, then try a little more next time. Or try a small portion size of a new type of bean or lentil.
Introduce one or two foods at a time. I don't recommend doing a complete overhaul from low fiber to lots of fiber overnight. If you're trying to add more plants to your plate start with one or two new foods a week. See how you tolerate them then add one or two more the following week. All plant-based foods contain various types of fiber and it can take your body some time to adapt to the variety. Again, this adaptation phase is good! You're waking up the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Drink plenty of water. Since fiber moves through our bodies whole, we need water to help push it through. Make sure you're getting plenty of water daily. (A rough estimate is to divide your body weight by half and drink that much in ounces.)
10 Simple Ways to Boost Fiber Intake Without Changing Everything You Eat
Now that you're curious (and hopefully motivated to boost fiber intake!), here are 10 simple ways to increase your fiber (along with B vitamins, magnesium, folate, and phytonutrients) by making such easy swaps that your taste buds and belly will barely know you made a change!
1. Swap whole grain bread for processed white bread. White bread has been stripped of its nutrients including fiber, B vitamins, and phytonutrients. Synthetic B vitamins are often placed back into the bread but ... it's just not the same as it's still devoid of fiber and phytonutrients. Choose whole grain or whole nut and seed bread whenever possible. Ezekiel sprouted bread is one of my personal favorites. Dave's Killer Bread is another that is packed with whole food ingredients (flax, millet, and barley to name a few) and has 5 grams of fiber a slice.
2. Swap out white rice for brown, black, red, or wild rice. Do you enjoy rice at home or at restaurants? Swapping out white rice, which has very little fiber (or B vitamins or phytonutrients) for brown rice will give you 4 grams of fiber per cup, plus B vitamins (for energy and brain health), selenium (for thyroid and immune health), and magnesium (for mood and sleep). White rice starts out as brown rice. A milling process removes the rice’s husk, bran, and germ, which removes the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Some brands of white rice are fortified where some of the nutrients are added back synthetically, but most are still missing.
If you want to boost fiber even further, black rice has 8 grams of fiber per cooked cup!
3. Swap out white pasta for whole grain pasta or legume pasta. The fiber content in white pasta is typically about 2 grams for two ounces of pasta (1/4 of an 8-ounce box). Not bad! But the fiber in whole wheat and legume pasta is 5 grams for two ounces. I don't know about you, but I can easily gobble up half of an 8-ounce box of pasta, which is 10 grams of fiber. Add pasta sauce with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and perhaps some broccoli for an even bigger boost in fiber!
4. Use a chia or flax egg to bake instead of a regular egg. In my experience, using a chia or flax egg won't alter the flavor at all and they do just as good of a job at binding ingredients. I used them in everything from muffins to cakes to veggie burgers. By swapping out regular eggs, you're swapping out the saturated fat that comes with them. Saturated fat has been shown to increase cholesterol, disrupt gut health, impair cognition, and increase inflammation. Most eggs are also produced in an environment that does not support animal welfare.
By adding flax or chia eggs, you ADD anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, plant-based protein, and phytonutrients. So, you're not only removing inflammatory compounds (from the eggs) but you're adding anti-inflammatory compounds. It's a win-win! (One tablespoon of chia or flax meal + 3 tablespoons of water = 1 egg.)
Learn more about baking with chia seeds or flax meal here.
5. Instead of crunchy chips try crunchy radish, cucumber, or carrots dipped in your favorite bean or hummus dip. The crunchy texture plus the creamy dip can often be just as satisfying while adding boatloads of nutrition. By swapping out the chips, you will vastly reduce the salt and trans fatty acids (from being fried), which can lead to bloating, high blood pressure, inflammation, and heart disease, not to mention what it does to your skin! Whereas, radish, cucumber, and carrots are packed with water and phytonutrients for a hydration boost, antioxidant-power, and overall wellness.
Another alternative that can satisfy the chip craving is to make your own chips. It's simple! Purchase your favorite whole grain tortillas. Lay them out flat on a cutting board. Brush or spray each side very lightly with avocado oil then sprinkle one side with just a touch of salt (for salt free, sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, or your favorite seasonings). Cut them into "tortilla strips" with a pizza cutter or knife (about 1" wide and 2–3" long). Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 7–10 minutes.
Finally, Moroccan Baked Chickpeas are another snack option that deliver lots of crunch, flavor, and fiber!
6. Replace processed sweet treats with whole food sweet treats. Some of my personal favorites include an ounce of almonds with an ounce of dark chocolate (7 grams of fiber!), plant-based yogurt with berries and chia or flax seeds, or homemade granola with plant milk and fruit.
7. Swap a bean burger in place of a traditional hamburger one day a week. Store-bought veggie burgers can be a good source of fiber. Even Beyond Meat has 3 grams of fiber per patty, which is more than traditional meat (zero fiber). Interestingly, studies show that replacing a regular beef burger with a Beyond Meat Burger may change the gut microbiome for the better. If you're feeling inspired, making your own homemade burgers at home typically takes less than 30 minutes prep time. Plus, they often make enough for the whole family or enough to refrigerate or freeze for later. Try Hearty Grilled Lentil Burgers, Better Than Your Frozen Black Bean Burgers, or Grillable Beet Burgers with Pickled Onions and Smashed Avocado.
8. Use whole foods in place of oil when making sauces and dressings. Not all, but some store-bought dressings can have added sugar, salt, oil, and other unwanted and unnecessary additives. It's important to check ingredient labels to see what's hidden in there. Homemade sauces and dressings are one of my personal favorite things to make on the planet because they:
typically take less than 5 minutes to make
can be jam packed with nutrition
are super delicious
can be made hundreds of ways
can be an easy way to boost fiber, flavor, and texture to meals
Anytime a dressing or sauce recipe calls for oil, consider substituting avocado, tahini, almond butter, raw cashews or sunflower seeds in place of oil. You'll need to add water to it as well to reach the desired consistency. These whole food ingredients can often replace oil because they naturally have lots of healthy fats, which helps reproduce that same silky and creamy mouthfeel. Oil is okay to use at times, but it is processed. It's only the fatty portion of the food. For example the fat from avocados is extracted to make oil, leaving the rest of the avocado behind, including the fiber, vitamin A, folate, magnesium, and more. When you use the whole avocado, you're getting the fat PLUS all of those healing nutrients, including boatloads of fiber (almost 10 grams per avocado!). Oil may be okay on occasions, like adding oil to a pan to make pancakes or waffles, however, it can easily be swapped out for whole foods when it's blended into dressings and sauces. Whenever possible, swap out oil with the whole food to get much more nutrition.
Visit 5 Simple to Make Plant-Based Dressings for five whole food dressing recipes that take less than 5 minutes to make!
9. Swap out white flour in baked goods, like muffin, pancakes, and waffles, with oat, almond, or buckwheat flour. These flours are made from whole oats, whole almonds, and whole buckwheat, meaning they are minimally processed and have all of their intact nutrition, including lots of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and phytonutrients. I find that using oat flour to replace white flour in recipes works well. Or, you can try a combination of oat and almond flour. Buckwheat flour can be a little more tricky as it's texture is very different than white flour. You can generally swap 25 percent of the white or wheat flour with buckwheat flour baked goods without a problem. It has a delicious nutty flavor and can stand alone to make the most scrumptious pancakes or waffles!
10. Swap a low fiber breakfast for a high fiber breakfast. Starting your day with a high fiber breakfast means starting your day energized, balanced, and grounded since fiber helps to keep you full, blood sugar stable, and sustained. Try avocado toast on whole grain bread, warm oatmeal with berries, chia seeds, and flax meal, or buckwheat flour waffles for when you have more time to prepare. You can also add fiber to your current breakfast. For example, add 1-2 Tbsp chia seeds to smoothies or smoothie bowls (bonus that you also get lots of omega 3’s!) or add berries and flax meal to your oats.
What's one way you can boost fiber intake today? Comment below!
And get more fiber-licious ideas, tips and fun facts, plus 40 recipes, a 14 day meal plan and grocery shopping list in “The Fiber Effect: Stop Counting Calories and Strat Counting Fiber for Better Health.”
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