What a GI expert eats in a day to get her fill of fiber
We’ve all heard the children’s song lyric, “Beans, beans, the magical fruit.” Although a silly playground tune, there’s more to the story. What is it that makes beans so magical?
It’s no secret that a balanced diet high in fiber is good for your health. Sufficient fiber intake can play a role in preventing a range of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and constipation. However, only about 5% of Americans are consuming enough fiber a day. The Institute of Medicine recommends adults get 26 to 38 grams of fiber a day, with men needing more than women.
Chances are, you are falling short on your fiber fill. But what should you eat to close the gap?
Take notes from Victoria Archibald, PA, PhD, a gastroenterology physician assistant at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth. Here’s why fiber is important, how fiber fits in her daily diet and how it can fit in yours too.
Why does fiber matter?
Fiber is any part of a plant that is not digested by our bodies. Although it’s not digested itself, it plays a key role in normal digestion. Fiber adds bulk to what eventually becomes stool so that it can be pushed out easily by the walls of the digestive tract.
There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. They play distinct roles in our digestive system. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance. It slows digestion therefore increases nutrient absorption. While conversely, insoluble fiber does not dissolve and adds bulk to the stool.
Both types of fiber offer unique health benefits.
“Soluble fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol levels, and promotes a healthy gut by nourishing beneficial gut bacteria,” Dr. Archibald said. “Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, aids in regular bowel movements and prevents constipation by adding bulk to the stool. For a typical person to meet their daily fiber recommendations, a balanced diet should include a variety of fiber-rich foods.”
So, while other nutrients from your food are absorbed by your intestines, fiber makes up most of what’s left behind.
A lesser-known benefit of fiber is how it fuels a balanced gut microbiome. The “good bacteria” in our intestines feast on insoluble fibers that live longer in our digestive tract. When these bacteria are well-fed with their favorite food–fiber—it improves our digestion. On the other hand, people with low-fiber diets have reduced gut microbiome diversity, which is associated with problems like obesity.
Recent studies have shown that increasing your fiber intake can help balance your gut microbiome in just a few weeks, even if you previously ate a low-fiber diet. As these fiber-feeding bacteria have more food in your gut, they can quickly proliferate to increase gut microbiome diversity.
What a GI expert eats in a day
Now that we have the low-down on fiber, let’s see what a gastroenterology physician’s assistant eats to prioritize this important nutrient. Keep in mind that the following meal plan is just one suggestion for how to get enough fiber in a day. Dr. Archibald will aim for the recommended 26 grams. Men need 38 grams, and children 19 grams.
Dr. Archibald typically starts out her day with around 8 grams of fiber. She eats one cup of oatmeal with 4 grams of fiber, and one apple, which also includes 4 grams of fiber.
Although many people rely on their morning coffee to keep regular, coffee does not have fiber. It instead triggers contractions in your colon and intestinal muscles. Instead, try turning to good sources of fiber like oatmeal to keep your gut happy.
For lunch, Dr. Archibald often has a sandwich with whole wheat bread. Two slices of bread yield 4 grams of fiber. She adds a sliced avocado to her sandwich for another 4 grams of fiber.
By this point, she’s had 16 grams of fiber.
In the evening, Dr. Archibald opts for grilled chicken. She has one cup of broccoli for another 5 grams of fiber, and quinoa with slivered almonds and dried cranberries for 8 grams of fiber.
This brings her fiber total for the day to 29 grams.
How to fit more fiber in your day
So, what about you? How can you optimize your meals to help meet your daily fiber requirement? Below are some other good sources of fiber that Dr. Archibald recommends to her patients.
- Brussels sprouts
- Legumes like beans and lentils
- Whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread
- Vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower
Remember, fiber is just one important part of a balanced diet, but it is an often-overlooked key to healthy digestion. Now that you have a fiber formula for your daily diet, you can fit in more of this magical nutrient.
Questions about your gut health? Talk to your doctor about ways to optimize your digestion, or find a digestive specialist near you.
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