Fiber isn't exactly the sexiest topic (let's be honest, when you hear "fiber" it is near impossible not to think of poop). But lack of sexiness aside, packing plenty of fiber into your meals is an extremely important part of healthy eating.
"It is essential for good digestion and keeps your gut microflora healthy and happy," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. Fiber also helps reduce your risk of chronic diseases—including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes—and keeps your cholesterol in check, adds Jennifer Martin-Biggers, PhD, MS, RDN, the VP of scientific affairs and education at Hum Nutrition.
- Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, registered dietitian and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen
- Jennifer Martin-Biggers, PhD, MS, RDN, I am a nutrition research communications expert, specializing in promoting behavior change and communicating nutrition research to a variety of audiences. I have spent my over 10 year long career in nutrition and dietetics in a variety of areas, including clinical diabetes research, in-patient medical nutrition therapy, community nutrition, academic research and teaching, and food industry. I am knowledgeable on monitoring and assessing trends in nutrition, as well as developing, monitoring, and evaluating effective strategies to encourage healthy behavior adoption. I am an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Society for Nutrition, and the Institute for Food Technologists. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and have a BS in Dietetics, MS in Nutrition, and PhD in Nutrition Sciences.
And indeed, the shorter-term symptoms of a low fiber diet can be unpleasant to say the least. "There is, of course, the fact that when you don't eat enough fiber, you can go for days without pooping—and that just doesn’t feel good!" says Largeman-Roth. We’re supposed to get 25-35 grams of total fiber daily, but according to Largeman-Roth, most Americans are falling very short of that recommendation, meaning the low fiber diet signs listed ahead are incredibly common.
"Not consuming enough fiber is a loss also because foods high in fiber tend to be high in a variety of healthy micronutrients and phytonutrients, too" says Dr. Martin-Biggers. Two big misconceptions are that high fiber foods don't taste good and that high fiber food needs to look and feel "fibrous," both of which are far from the truth, Largeman-Roth says. "For example, avocados are loaded with fiber! One cup contains 10 grams." Fiber is also found in fresh fruits like strawberries and pears, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Here, four low fiber diet signs, or ways your body is telling you it wants more of the delicious aforementioned food groups.
Low fiber diet signs and signals that your body could benefit from eating more fiber-rich foods
1. Pooping is an extreme (and infrequent) sport.
"You probably already know that you can get constipated without fiber, but in addition, it may be difficult to poop once you do go. Getting enough fiber—as well as water—helps you go more easily without struggling," Largeman-Roth says.
To get specific, insoluble fiber is responsible for adding bulk to your stool, which helps supply your digestive system with something substantial to pass. Soluble fiber helps more water remain in your stool, which makes your number-twos softer, more sizable, and therefore, less painful to pass through your intestines. Consuming more of both of these forms of fiber in your diet will help ensure smoother (and more frequent) bathroom visits.
2. You're hungry all. the. damn. time.
Time to check if you've been skimping on the fibrous foods. "Fiber helps us feel fuller longer," Largeman-Roth says. This is because fiber doesn't get broken down and used by our bodies, so it takes longer for it to go through our digestive system. This slower process also means that your intestinal walls have more time to absorb the vitamins and nutrients from your meal.
3. You have no more pep in your step.
Your morning coffee is far from being the only food group that can provide you with plenty of energy. "Feeling low in energy or sluggish can actually be a sign you aren’t eating enough fiber," says Dr. Martin-Biggers. "It helps slow the release of nutrients during digestion, which also makes for a slower release of sugar molecules from the carbohydrates we eat." This is because fiber helps your body break down and absorb carbohydrates more gradually, which helps keep blood sugar levels stable—and avoid spikes and crashes.
4. You have heightened cholesterol or blood pressure.
"Not eating enough fiber-filled foods means you are missing out on the cholesterol-lowering benefits of fiber," says Largeman-Roth. "This may cause your total cholesterol level to be heightened." Fiber has been shown to decrease triglycerides—which lowers your risk of heart disease—and up your HDL (the 'good' cholesterol) levels, which is why dietary fiber is linked to lower levels of cholesterol in the blood and lower blood pressure.
There are many factors that can contribute to higher cholesterol and blood pressure, of course, but a low fiber intake is among them. This is compounded by the fact that fiber-rich foods are packed with many other heart- and overall health-boosting benefits. Talk about a win-win.
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