If your diet is full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains then you are likely to be getting sufficient fiber. But is that the case with you? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an average adult should consume 28 grams of fiber per day or about 14 grams per 1000 calories. Unfortunately, a large number of people aren't meeting the recommended intake of fiber per day. An FDA report mentions that the average adult American man consumes just under 19 grams of fiber per day while the average woman eats only 15 grams of fiber a day. That’s simply not good enough.
The sad truth is that dietary fiber is an oft-overlooked nutrient as many of us are too focused on getting our daily dose of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. However, getting proper amounts of fiber, as we mentioned above, is equally essential. The Cleveland Clinic states that people who consume between 25-29 grams of fiber per day also see a 15-30% decrease in their risk of colon cancer, along with a reduction in the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Not sure if you’re getting enough total fiber? Read on to find the signs of fiber deficiency.
Symptoms of Fiber Deficiency
One of the most obvious signs of a diet lacking in fiber is stomach issues, particularly constipation. Health experts say that irregular bowel movements may be a symptom that you aren’t getting sufficient fiber. As we said earlier, fiber helps support regular bowel movements by allowing food to move along the digestive tract smoothly. Furthermore, the nutrient promotes laxation and lubrication through its gel-forming properties.
So if you are having difficulties in passing stool or having fewer than three bowel movements a week, you might be constipated. If you experience frequent constipation, then try adding more fiber-rich foods (more on that later) to your diet for improved regularity.
2. Weight gain
Eating adequate fiber helps you feel fuller longer since fibrous foods are usually bulky and thus filling. These foods also tend to take longer to digest, thus preventing any excessive snacking or cravings between meals. When we don't eat sufficient fiber, we tend to feel hungrier and usually end up overeating. Even after we’ve just had a meal. This leads to unexpected weight gain.
A high-fiber diet, meanwhile, can aid in weight loss. One study found that when participants added just 8 grams of fiber to their daily diets for 20 months, they ended up shedding an average of 2 kgs (4.4 pounds). Moreover, foods rich in fiber generally have a lower energy density, meaning that they provide fewer calories per gram of food.
Whether or not weight loss is your goal, getting enough fiber will definitely help you remain satiated throughout the day and will keep your caloric intake within reasonable need.
3. Blood sugar fluctuations
If your diet is lacking in fiber, you may experience a rapid drop in blood sugar. Also known as hypoglycemia, this can be caused by several other reasons too, including preexisting conditions such as type I and type II diabetes as well as a high-sugar low-fiber diet. Also, if you have a low-fiber diet that is filled with refined carbohydrates, you will be prone to sudden spikes in blood glucose levels, followed by a sudden drop as the insulin response kicks in.
By including more fiber in your diet, however, you can keep your blood glucose levels stable, and provide your body with sustainable energy throughout the day. A recent study has also shown that people who consume high amounts of fiber have the lowest risk of diabetes.
4. Fatigue/low energy
If you find it hard to get up in the morning and feel lazy during the day, you could be low on fiber. As we said above, having a diet that’s low in fiber and rich in refined carbs can suddenly raise your blood sugar. This seesawing blood sugar levels can make you feel low on energy throughout the day despite having a good night of sleep. This happens because your body digests simple carbohydrates more quickly which are then swiftly released into your bloodstream when you are not consuming enough fiber.
Consuming adequate fiber can combat this as it will raise your energy levels within a short time.
5. High cholesterol
Soluble fiber almost acts like a magnet, absorbing cholesterol in the small intestine and allowing it to pass through the digestive tract as waste. Consuming a low-fiber diet, though, can contribute to a spike in your cholesterol levels. The less soluble fiber you consume, the bigger risk you have of high cholesterol. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests getting 7 to 13 grams of soluble fiber daily to keep your cholesterol levels in check. Research has also shown that soluble fiber may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing blood cholesterol levels.
Soluble fiber can be found in foods like citrus fruits, pears, beans, brussels sprout, and oats. Make sure you include at least some of these in your daily diet.
6. Gastrointestinal issues
If you’re experiencing gastrointestinal issues such as inflammation, one possible cause of it might be insufficient fiber. Not eating enough fiber can lead to undernourished good bacteria in your gut which is responsible for releasing substances that help lower levels of inflammation throughout the body. Therefore, when the gut bacteria are not fed properly, it can cause inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and even some types of cancer. So, it’s important that you feed your good bacteria properly a fiber-rich diet can help in doing so.
Ways to increase fiber in your diet
We have already established that fiber plays an important role in your overall health. And a diet that’s severely lacking in fiber can lead to a number of diseases. Research suggests that fiber deficiency can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cavities, along with the risk of colon, liver, and breast cancers.
To limit the risk of many health problems, include a variety of plant-based high-fiber foods in your diet daily. Some fiber-rich foods include apples, beans, whole grains, berries, dried fruits, avocados, and broccoli. Our article on 14 Fantastic Natural Sources of Healthy Fiber will be even more helpful in this regard.
Here are some simple suggestions that will help you increase fiber in your diet:
* Have vegetables that are of two different colors.
* Have oats or barley for breakfast.
* For your evening snacks, start having dried fruit, nuts, or wholemeal crackers. But do remember portion control.
* Add apples or berries to your morning meals.
* Opt for multigrain bread and brown rice for lunch.
* Make sure you eat beans, lentils, and chickpeas regularly.
* Have two different vegetables or fruits at each meal.
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