Many people in the United States and worldwide aren’t eating enough fiber.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat 25-38g of fiber every day. Yet, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average American only eats about 16g per day, suggesting that a large percentage of people eat even less than that.
When we don’t eat enough fiber, we can experience irregular bowel movements, constipation, and other digestive problems. Fiber helps the body eliminate waste and toxins, and it feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut. If those microorganisms are not getting the type of food they need, this can negatively affect our immune systems.
Fiber also contributes to a sense of fullness during meals, making you less likely to overeat or snack when not hungry. People with obesity tend to have less fiber intake than people at a healthier weight.
What Is Fiber?
Zooming in with a microscope, you can observe that plants and animals are made of cells, and plant cells are structured differently than the animal cells we’re made of. Since plants do not have skeletons to hold them upright, they gain their rigidity through their cell walls, as if each little cell had its own tiny exoskeleton. Animal cells don’t need those strong cell walls, so they have soft membranes.
The hard structure of the plant cell walls is made of a carbohydrate called cellulose. While our stomach acids, pancreatic juices, and liver enzymes can efficiently break down proteins, starches, and fats, they cannot break down cellulose. Our gut bacteria can process some of it, but most of these fibers pass through us undigested – and that’s a good thing. We need those fibers to slow down digestion, creating more time for nutrient absorption, and we need fiber to bulk up our stools and expel waste products easily.
Plant cells are packed full of wonderful vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more. These nutrients are locked away inside those tough cell walls, which is why it is important to chew your food into a smooth paste before swallowing – grind up those cell walls and break the fiber into smaller particles that are easy for our bodies to pass.
There are soluble fibers, which dissolve in and carry water. You can see this with beans, rice, oatmeal, and other grains that grow in size as they are soaked in water.
Insoluble fibers don’t dissolve in water. If you put a leaf of lettuce or a celery stick in water, it won’t dissolve or absorb that water.
Both types are essential.
Eat More Plants
Fiber comes from plants.
You’re not going to find any dietary fiber in meat, dairy, eggs, or candy. White bread, white rice, crackers, and pasta have only small amounts. We need to eat lots of leafy greens, beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to get the best supply.
If you’re not eating these types of foods every day, you likely aren’t getting enough fiber.