Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that comes only from plants and is not digested. Fiber can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
There are two kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber changes during digestion to a viscous substance, which slows down the digestive process. On the other side, insoluble fiber facilitates its functioning, which helps preventing constipation.
Proper fiber consumption is important for noncommunicable diseases prevention and treatment. It contributes to satiety, which helps preventing or treating overweight and obesity. Besides, increasing consumption of plant-based foods brings additional benefits for this purpose. Vegetables that are a good source of fiber have low calorie content; whole grain cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds provide vegetable protein; and fruits, aside from being a vitamin and mineral source, serve as a replacement for the sweet flavor of other foods. These strategies would also reduce meat, saturated fat and refined cereals consumption, which in excess are associated to weight increase.
It is important to mention that fiber helps reducing glucose levels by slowing down food absorption, which is helpful for people with diabetes. This contributes to maintain blood glucose at a healthy range. At last, lowering cholesterol levels prevents hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol. Furthermore, high fiber consumption has been associated with lower risk of heart disease.
Fiber intake recommended for men aged 19 to 50 years is 35 grams, while 30 grams are advised for women on this age range. For men and women over the age of 50, this recommendation is reduced to 30 g and 26 g, respectively.
In order to increase your fiber consumption, begin by the following:
- Eat whole fruits and vegetables, with skin, instead of consuming them as juice.
- Replace refined cereals such as white bread, regular pasta and rice for wholegrain products such as brown bread, pasta and rice.
- Incorporate legumes to your daily diet: beans, fava beans, lentils or chickpeas. You can add wholegrain cereals to eat instead of animal products, as these two groups form a ‘whole protein’.
- Add fruits or vegetables to every meal as part of a dish, as a side dish, as an entry or a dessert.
If you decide to increase your fiber consumption, we recommend incorporating it gradually to your diet, drinking enough plain water. This is advised because fiber needs water to easily go through the intestine. Eating more fiber will improve the quality of your diet, contributing to the prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases.
Academia Nacional de Medicina (Mexico). Guías alimentarias y de actividad física en contexto del sobrepeso y obesidad en la población mexicana. Available from https://www.anmm.org.mx/publicaciones/CAnivANM150/L29_ANM_Guias_alimentarias.pdf
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Easy ways to boost fiber in your daily diet. Available from https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/easy-ways-to-boost-fiber-in-your-daily-diet
Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. The nutrition source: Fiber. Available from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/