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Fiber: Love it with every fiber of your bean

Fiber gets a lot of credit for keeping people regular. That alone is pretty great, but fiber does SO MUCH MORE than help you go. In the spirit of awards season, I want to give fiber all the recognition it deserves. But first, what is it and where does it come from?

Fiber is found only in plant foods (sorry, it’s not in meat or dairy!) Fiber is the indigestible part of the cell walls of plants that gives them structure. There are two types: soluble and insoluble. Both are important.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel like substance (think of the clear gel that forms when you cook oatmeal or beans, as well as the pectin in fruits and veggies).

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and passes through the digestive system close to its original form. It is found mostly in the peels and skins of fruits and vegetables as well as the bran or outer layer of grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.

You get both types of fiber when you consume plant foods, and both types of fiber serve important health functions. Let’s not pit one type of fiber over another, because you need both. Luckily whole plant foods (beans, nuts, fruits, veggies, whole grains) have you covered!

What can fiber do for you? Let us count the things.

Appetite control

A fiber rich diet helps you feel full and satisfied longer because it slows down the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Because of its satiating and appetite controlling effect, eating a fiber rich diet is important for weight loss.

Lower cholesterol

Dietary fiber binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract, thus reducing your absorption of dietary cholesterol. Both soluble and insoluble fiber play a role in this.

Healthy gut and lower inflammation

Fiber serves as a food source for the healthy bacteria in our intestines, otherwise known as “gut flora.” That’s great news because those little guys work for us! When we feed them fiber, they make stuff that is good for us including short chain fatty acids that are good for our colon cells. Additionally, healthy gut flora has been linked to lower levels of inflammation.

(It’s true, these little guys are also who we can thank for flatulence. Gas is the bi-product of our gut flora digesting and fermenting fiber. Increasing fiber slowly in the diet can help).

Blood sugar control

Fiber rich foods slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrate foods on the other hand get processed and absorbed rather quickly causing blood sugar highs and lows. Fiber rich foods are a carbohydrate source to focus on because of their blood sugar stabilizing effect.

In the spirit of awards season, the award for best all around functional nutrient goes to…. Drumroll…

Vitamin C!

Wait, no, wrong envelope. It’s FIBER. Fiber, please come up. (Sorry, couldn’t help an Oscar’s joke).

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the importance of dietary fiber, most Americans fall short! The recommendation is 25 grams a day for women, and 38 grams per day for men, or 15 grams per 1000 calories in the diet. Most Americans get half that.

How do I know how much fiber I’m getting?

For my clients, I recommend that they log their food intake for at least 3 days using a nutrient analysis app such as My Net Diary or My Fitness Pal It doesn’t matter what you use as long as it tracks fiber. Then you can see how you have bean doing.

What foods have a lot of fiber? Here is a non-exhaustive list of just some fiber super stars:

BEANS & PEAS (1 cup cooked)

Navy beans 19 g

Lentils 16 g

Kidney beans 16 g

Split peas 16 g

Black beans 15 g

Pinto beans 15 g

Lima beans 14 g

Green peas 14 g

Garbanzo beans 12 g

Blackeye peas 11 g

Pigeon peas 9 g

Soy beans (edamame) 6 g


Avocado, 1/2, 9 g

Raspberries, 1 cup raw, 8 g

Blackberries, 1 cup raw, 8 g

Figs, dried, ½ cup, 8 g

Pear, 1 medium, 6 g

Prunes, ½ cup, 6 g

Blueberries, 1 cup raw, 4 g

Orange, 1 medium, 4 g

Apple, 1 medium, 4 g

Banana, 1 medium, 3 g

VEGGIES, 1 cup cooked

Acorn squash, 9 g

Hubbard squash, 7 g

Brussels sprouts, 6 g

Greens, turnip, mustard, collards, 5 g

Summer squash, 5 g

Cauliflower, Broccoli, 5 g

Spinach, 4 g

Beet greens, 4 g

Cabbage, 4 g

Zucchini squash, 3 g

Kale, 3 g

WHOLE GRAINS (1 cup cooked)

Bulgur, 8 g

Barley, 6 g

Spaghetti (whole wheat), 6 g

Buckwheat groats, 5 g

Quinoa, 5 g

Oats (old fashioned), 4 g

Brown rice, 4 g

Wild rice, 3 g

NUTS and SEEDS (1/4 cup)

Pinon nuts, 12 g

Flaxseed, 8 g

Almonds, 4 g

Sesame seeds, 4 g

Pistachios, 3 g

Sunflower seeds, 3 g

Peanuts, Walnuts, Brazil nuts, 2 g

POTATOES (1 medium size including skin)

Russet potato, 4 g

Sweet potato, 4 g

Red potato, 3 g

For more on fiber, see:

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