Fiber 101: Navigating the World of Fiber

By Jennifer Patzkowsky, MS, RDN, LDN, Publix Corporate Dietitianassorted nuts

The current USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus on the importance of eating patterns as a whole, and how foods and beverages work together to affect health. A diet with a variety of nutrient-dense foods will help you shift toward the recommended daily intake of fiber and other nutrients. As you look for foods higher in fiber, it’s important to understand the different types and sources of fiber and how they affect you.

Soluble vs. Insoluble

Dietary fibers are nondigestible carbohydrates, primarily from plant foods such as grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Most whole foods contain a combination of the two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble:

  • Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, can help lower glucose and blood cholesterol levels. Foods like oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples, and blueberries contain soluble fiber.
  • Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, can help food move through your digestive system, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation. Foods with insoluble fiber include wheat, whole-wheat bread, whole-grain couscous, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

Foods vs. Supplements

Supplements can be helpful for people dealing with health conditions such as constipation, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome. But for most, foods are better sources of fiber because they provide a complete package with essential vitamins and minerals.

Don't Forget Fluids

When increasing fiber in your diet, be sure to do it gradually and with plenty of fluids. Water and other beverages help to keep digestion running smoothly. If you consume more than your usual intake of fiber but not enough fluid, you may experience nausea or constipation.

Tips for Taking in More Fiber

A growing body of evidence suggests that fiber may help prevent chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, colorectal and other cancers, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. So, if you are in the market to fill up on fiber, try these helpful tips:

  • Use Publix Better Choice shelf tags to identify products with more fiber and less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
  • Choose whole fruits more often than drinking fruit juices.
  • Eat more whole grains: Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole-grain products.
  • For breakfast, choose cereals that have a whole grain, such as whole wheat, as the first ingredient.
  • Snack on raw vegetables more often than chips, crackers, or chocolate bars.
  • Substitute beans or legumes for meat two to three times per week in chili and soups.
  • Try reduced-sodium or no-salt-added canned beans in salads, soups, and casseroles.
  • Add flaxseed meal or chia seeds to your favorite baked goods such as muffins, pancakes, breads, and cookies.
  • Add nuts and seeds to your meals and snacks.
  • Check out the food label: Rather than focusing on the amount in grams, look at the Dietary Reference Value (DRV) to select foods higher in fiber. A DRV of 5% or less is low and 20% or more is high.

Adding Fiber via Plant-Based Diets

Gaining popularity among Americans, plant-based diets offer great ways to add fiber and provide many health benefits. Are you looking for ways to get more vegetables and other plant foods into your routine? Here are some ideas:

  • Build your breakfasts around oatmeal, whole-grain cereal, or a slice of whole-grain bread spread with nut butter. Include some fresh fruit, too.
  • Make a vegetarian meal one night a week. Include beans, whole grains, vegetables, herbs, and spices in a simple sauté or stew.
  • Fill at least half of your dinner plate with salad greens and cooked or raw vegetables.
  • Build a meal around salad. Fill a bowl with delicious salad greens. Add an assortment of chopped fresh or roasted vegetables, nuts, fresh herbs, beans, and avocado, and finish it off with flavored vinegar or your favorite dressing.
  • Include a side of whole grains, such as barley, quinoa, brown rice, or farro. Top with a sprinkling of chopped nuts and/or chopped fresh herbs to boost the flavor.
  • Go for the greens. Find ways to include spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collards, and other greens in daily meals. Serve them fresh with salads, incorporate into casseroles and soups, or serve steamed as a side.
  • Eat fresh fruit for dessert.