The average American gets less than 15 grams of fiber per day — not even 40% of the recommended amount, 40 grams. Unfortunately, foods stripped of their fiber abound around us — such as white flour, white rice, white pasta — and Americans eat three times more of these foods than they should, says a 2013 study by USDA’s Economic Research Service.
No time to read food labels and assess how much fiber you are getting? Well, at some point, your body is sure to send you warning signals that it needs more. Look out for them, and let them alert you to the need for upping your fiber intake:
Your cholesterol is high: one of the reasons this happens is lack of adequate soluble fiber in your diet. Found in foods such as oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium, soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel like material that binds up harmful substances such as bile, cholesterol and other toxins. An oft-quoted meta study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that high intakes of soluble fiber were associated with significant decreases in total and LDL cholesterol in 60–70% of the trials that they put to test.
You’re gaining weight. Why does one slice of whole wheat bread feel more “satisfying” than two slices of white bread? The reason is fiber, which is removed with the outer coating of the grain during the milling process of white bread. Whole wheat bread, on the other hand, contains fiber-dense bran and wheat germ, which provide a more constant source of energy. As a result, you feel full faster and longer. Other fiber-rich foods such as brown rice and legumes have the same satiating effect, making it less likely that you would indulge in impulsive snacking. The happy result: you don’t gain weight! A review of several studies linking high fiber intake with weight loss, published in the Nutrition Review, concluded that an increase in either soluble or insoluble fiber intake increases postmeal satiety and decreases subsequent hunger. So, if lately, the scales have been moving up, it might be time to up your fiber intake.
You feel hungry. A lot.: For the same reason that fiber makes you feel full, lack of it makes you feel hungry. This does not help if you are trying to control your weight. The most common culprits here are foods made with plain white flour, which has been stripped of most of its fiber. So, white rice, pancakes, pasta—notice how you tend to eat more of these as compared to whole wheat versions. If those hunger pangs have been hitting too soon after a “meal,” it is time to turn to fiber-rich foods!
You’re moving slow: Perhaps one of the surest signs that you need more fiber is trouble with bowel movement. If chronic constipation is an issue, more fiber is in order, particularly insoluble fiber which holds on to water and helps form softer, bulkier stools to regulate bowel movement. According to experts at The Harvard School of Medical Health, “the fiber from wheat bran and oat bran seems to be more effective in relief from constipation than similar amounts of fiber from fruits and vegetables.” They add a cautionary note—don’t up your fiber intake suddenly. Gradual increase is best.