Every nutrient, it seems, gets to have its day in the sun (and its time in the doghouse). First fat was the enemy, then good fats suddenly became all the rage. High-protein diets have come and gone. And while carbs have been demonized by some, the high-fiber content of complex carbohydrates is predicted to be the next big thing on the dietary horizon.
“The average American diet provides only about 11 to 13 grams of fiber a day, falling far short of the recommended goal of 30 grams a day,” says Jessica Crandall, RDN, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The new dietary guidelines emphasize whole grains versus over-refined ones — suggesting that half of your grains be whole grains — which is essentially a recommendation to Americans to focus more on their fiber consumption. “Fiber is related to satiety, so eating meals that are rich in fiber will help you feel more satisfied and stay fuller longer,” says Crandall.
The best way to increase the amount of fiber in your diet is to shift your focus away from animal foods. “Fiber is only in plant foods; it’s not in any animal foods,” says exercise physiologist and nutritionist Martica Heaner. And it seems that people are getting the message. Research has shown that anywhere from 26 to 41 percent of Americans report eating less meat, and the millennial generation’s focus on the environment is further fueling a trend toward more plant-based diets. Celebrity endorsements for veganism — like Beyoncé marketing her own vegan-meal delivery service and giving the diet credit for her amazing body — are also making plant-based eating chicer than ever.
“The typical vegan diet includes 50 to 75 grams of fiber per day, and we know that people who eat predominantly plant-based diets live longer and have a much lower risk of chronic disease,” says Heaner. “Fiber sweeps out our gut and also helps our microbiome — when you eat more plant foods, they help develop colonies of bacteria that are good for us.”
Want to jump on the fiber bandwagon? Experts advise starting slowly to increase your intake so as not to create digestive issues. Also, try spacing out your fiber throughout the day. “Every meal you consume, think about how you could add some extra fiber to it — more veggies, fruit, whole grains, seeds,” suggests Crandall. “Micromanage your fiber goal at every meal and you’re more likely to hit it.”
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.