Fiber. Most of us know we need it, but did you know only 1 of 10 adults meets the daily goal? (1) And if you have trouble tolerating fiber, or avoid certain foods because of a health condition or preference, you may have an even greater challenge meeting the daily fiber guidelines.
It’s important not to give up on fiber though! If the tolerance barrier to eating fiber-containing foods can be overcome, many health benefits may follow.
How can we break through this tolerance barrier and enjoy eating high-fiber foods again? By substituting low FODMAP high fiber foods. Research shows that low-FODMAP fiber choices are better tolerated than many traditional fiber sources.
I’ll explain what a FODMAP food is shortly, but first, let’s review why we need fiber in the first place and the health benefits of eating a fiber-rich diet.
What is Fiber and how much do we need?
Fiber is the part of plant foods that we can’t digest or absorb. Therefore, it passes through the digestive tract and is eliminated by the body.
Classified as a carbohydrate, but not broken down into sugars like other carbohydrates, dietary fiber is listed under the Total Carbohydrate section of the nutrition facts label on food packages. Foods that are good sources of fiber will provide at least 3 grams per serving.
The goal for adults is to consume 25-38 grams of dietary fiber per day, or 14 grams for every 1000 calories consumed. Using the standard 2000 calories per day adult reference value, 28 grams would be the daily target. The average intake of adults is currently 15-16 grams per day, so we have a ways to go to hit the goal!
What does Fiber do?
It’s amazing how a food component that passes through the body without being digested or absorbed offers so many health benefits! Here is a partial list of what fiber can do for us:
- Improve bowel regularity and prevent constipation. Fiber adds bulk to the stool, absorbs water to make it softer, and speeds transit time through the digestive tract. This helps prevent constipation.
- Stabilize blood sugar. Fiber is not broken down to sugars that raise blood glucose like other carbohydrates are, plus it slows the rate of absorption of those sugars.
- Improve satiety (fullness). Fiber adds bulk and takes up room in the digestive tract, which leads to greater feelings of fullness for a longer time between meals and snacks.
- Lower cholesterol levels. Fiber binds to cholesterol and prevents some of it from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Support a healthy gut microbiome. Fiber is a prebiotic which is food for the bacteria and other organisms in our GI tract. A healthy microbiome promotes overall good health.
Fiber is also associated with a decreased risk of:
- Heart Disease. How? By lowering both cholesterol and blood pressure, and possibly aiding in weight loss efforts due to increased feelings of fullness.
- Certain cancers, including colon and breast cancers. One way fiber is thought to help is by feeding healthy gut bacteria which are then able to prevent cancer cell formation.
- Type 2 Diabetes, due to fiber’s beneficial effects on stabilizing blood glucose. (2)
Where is fiber found?
Foods high in fiber that are traditionally recommended for people without GI issues include:
- Whole Grains, such as whole wheat breads, cereals and crackers; wheat bran, whole oats, whole grain pasta, brown rice
- Fruits, especially whole fruits with edible skins or seeds such as apples, pears and berries
- Legumes, which includes beans, peas and lentils
Using traditional high-fiber foods to meet the daily fiber goal might look like this:
- 2 fruit servings plus
- 3 vegetable servings plus
- 3 whole grain servings and
- 1 serving of legumes
That’s per day. What’s a serving? A small piece of fruit, ½-1 cup vegetables, ½ cup or 1 oz grains, ½ cup of beans or peas.
There are a variety of healthy combinations to meet fiber needs; this is one common recommendation. As you can see, it can be challenging to include all of these foods daily, and especially if you need to avoid certain foods due to a health issue or you’re dealing with food intolerances!
If you suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) problems or food intolerance, you may feel that you can’t enjoy eating high-fiber foods. At least not very often or very much! Because symptoms may worsen when you eat more fiber, you may have all but given up on this health goal.
Common GI problems that might cause some of us to stay away from high fiber foods include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity, and digestive distress occurring after eating.
The good news is that research has revealed readily available, alternative fiber sources that are much less likely to cause GI distress. Even for the GI conditions listed above. These are low FODMAP fiber foods.
To reap the benefits of a high fiber diet, without the digestive distress, read on to learn about low FODMAP options and how to work them into your daily intake.
Low FODMAP, High Fiber Foods
Let’s get back to the question, “What is a FODMAP”? This acronym stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Poly- and Mono-saccharides and Polyols.
FODMAPs are specific types of carbohydrates that have been shown to cause problems for some people due to their poor digestion. Common symptoms resulting from this poor digestion include gas, bloating, pain and diarrhea.
You may have realized by now that many common high-fiber foods are also high in poorly tolerated FODMAPs! That’s right- favorite foods like wheat, beans, apples, pears, onions and more! It’s not so surprising that GI distress may worsen when increasing fiber intake with traditional fiber foods that are high in FODMAPs.
For much more information on FODMAP foods including an extensive food list, check out Monash University where FODMAP research began over a decade ago to help people with GI distress due to food intolerance.
The good news is that there are still many low FODMAP, high fiber foods that are usually quite tolerable, even for people with GI issues. Below is a partial list of some you can try:
- Low FODMAP grains: wheat free, multi-grain bread and crackers (For ease in shopping, choose “gluten free” grains; although gluten is not a FODMAP, gluten-free foods will be wheat free as well); gluten-free oats and oat bran, quinoa, brown rice
- Fruits: banana (small, non-ripe), clementine, grapes, kiwifruit, lemon, orange, pineapple
- Vegetables: bell pepper, broccoli (heads), carrots, collard greens, cucumber, green beans, kale, lettuce, spinach, tomato
- Legumes: canned, drained lentils and chickpeas
- Nuts and Seeds: Brazil nuts, peanuts, walnuts, pine nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds
A daily high-fiber plan using a low FODMAP food list might include:
- Oatmeal topped with berries and walnuts
- Low FODMAP oat bran blueberry muffin (click here for my recipe)
- A sandwich on wheat/gluten-free bread that is also whole grain
- Carrots with a small amount of hummus
- Clementine or pineapple slices
- Chia pudding (try this recipe)
- Vegetables at meals such as a sweet potato, green beans, kale
- Side dishes like quinoa, wheat-free pasta made with chickpeas or brown rice
- Water (fiber needs liquid to absorb)
Fiber Boosters: Supplements and Seeds
It may be easier to meet fiber needs by using a fiber booster. Think of this as an adornment to your food or an accessory, as the servings sizes are quite small and we typically don’t eat them by themselves.
Flax seeds (or ground flax meal) and chia seeds are both great fiber boosters. You can get a boost of 3-5 grams of fiber per tablespoon. Ground flax meal is easier to digest than the seeds.
Fiber supplements may be incorporated as another daily boost. It’s important to remember that these are supplementing the diet and do not provide an entire day’s worth of fiber.
Most fiber supplements provide 3-5 grams of dietary fiber per serving. But serving sizes vary a great deal between fiber powders, gummies and capsules. Read labels carefully, as some added ingredients and flavorings may be high in FODMAPs.
Get enough Fiber- the low FODMAPs way!
If you have a hard time tolerating fiber, it might be that your food choices are too high in FODMAPs. Try choosing lower FODMAP options and eat smaller amounts of high FODMAP foods at a time spread throughout the day. Include plenty of water as well- so the fiber has some liquid to absorb!
For more information on how a low FODMAP, high fiber eating plan may benefit you, schedule a complimentary discovery call with me today.