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Fiber: The Healthy Carb

healthy high fiber carbohydrates
June 8, 2016 (Updated: February 21, 2019)
Lily Moran

If you think ridding your diet of carbs is the road to good health, you’re full of beans…or pistachios, carrots, apples, and raspberries…or you should be. These tasty treats and dozens more are very healthy, fiber-rich carbs indeed.

It’s all about the fiber

Just like there’s good and bad cholesterol, there are healthy and unhealthy carbs. Fiber-rich carbs, found in many fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans, with the vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and other nutrients they bring along for the ride, are the healthy eater’s best friend, and the weight watcher’s, too. The other carbs? Steer clear of:

  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Pastries and desserts
  • Sweetened beverages, like lemonade or iced tea
  • Energy drinks
  • Ice cream

Fiber basics—a plateful of benefits

We can’t digest fiber, or convert it into nutrients, like other foods—we don’t have the specialized enzymes to do that job.

If that sounds like evolution made a mistake when creating our digestive systems, it isn’t that at all. Being undigestible is the key to fiber’s abundant health benefits.

Fiber comes in two types—each with its own special benefits.

Soluble fiber mixes with water and the digestive enzymes made by your liver to create a gel. That gooey, gluey stuff in your bowl of oatmeal? That’s soluble fiber—which cleverly intercepts and grabs hold of bad LDL cholesterol, various toxins, and other waste matter. And out of our systems it all goes.

Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of sugar, an invaluable preventer of those notorious blood sugar spikes that are linked to type 2 diabetes.

Insoluble fiber is what used to be called “roughage”. Its job is to absorb water and gently expand in your intestines. Acting as a sort of push-broom and digestive lubricant, it speeds up all of your digestive processes by “scrubbing” the walls of your intestines while making digestion byproducts larger and softer.

And while it’s busy doing its cleansing work, to help keep you regular and prevent constipation, it’s also creating a feeling of satiety, which tells your stomach to tell your brain to tell your mouth we’re full, stop eating!

A weighty decision

If fiber sounds like a great way to curb your craving for another chicken nugget, it is exactly that. Your calorie count goes down accordingly.

Here’s proof.

A 2015 study followed 427,000 people trying to lose weight. Some succeeded, defined as reaching within five percent of their target weight.

The others failed.

The question, of course, was why? Did the successful subjects consume fewer carbs? Less sugar? Less fat? More protein? Less protein?

No. The successful and the unsuccessful dieters consumed pretty much the same amounts of calories, protein, fat, and carbs.

The only significant difference in the winners’ diets?

They ate 29 percent more fiber.[i]

Think about it. Famous brand-name diets micromanage your every bite, every day, with limited success.

Meanwhile, you can just eat more fiber-rich foods with significantly more success.

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It’s not just about losing weight

All types of fiber have earned star ratings by helping manage, reverse, or prevent the usual list of terrible health outcomes—cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disease, poor sleep, cancer, chronic inflammation, etc. Fiber is also strongly linked to a reduced risk of gall stones, kidney stones, diverticular diseases, and more.[ii]

It’s also a favorite nutrient for the trillions of good bacteria (probiotics) in your gut. Keeping them well fed and fully functional is an absolutely essential—if not the essential—pillar of good health.

But don’t just rush out and eat a basket full of fiber-rich foods.

Climb the fiber ladder slowly

A nutritionist I respect recommends creating a fiber consumption baseline—an estimate of your grams of fiber consumed per day—then adding an additional 3–5 grams of fiber per day. That’s just one extra serving of veggies or one extra piece of fruit. Several online sources give you grams of fiber per ounce. After you’ve hit that target for two weeks, go ahead and add another 5 grams.

Why the stepwise process? Well, the average America consumes only 10.5 grams of fiber daily. A significant, sudden change in any behavior can have unwanted results—and doubling or tripling your fiber intake overnight is indeed significant. Fiber in itself poses no threat. It’s what you do or overdo with it that calls for restraint. In a typical case, overloading fiber can cause bloating, constipation, gas, cramping, and all of the above.

And let your doctor know your intention. They can help you navigate the dietary changes, and it might be an opportunity to also adjust some other dietary behaviors.

Women, when you’re averaging 25 grams, and men, 35 grams of fiber per day, stay at that level.

High Fiber Food Recommendations

Here are some fiber-rich foods, and the amount of fiber in each. (100 grams is a little less than one serving of raw fruit, and a little more than one serving of most raw vegetables.)

Fruits grams fiber per 100 grams Health Bonus
Apples 2.4 One of the tastiest and most satisfying fruits
Avocado 6.7 Loaded with healthy fats, very high in vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, B vitamins
Bananas 2.6 Good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium
Pear 3.1 Excellent fruit source
Raspberries 6.5 Loaded with vitamin C and manganese
Strawberries 2.0 Very nutrient-dense—vitamin C, manganese, and powerful antioxidants

 

Vegetables grams fiber per 100 grams Health Bonus
Artichoke 8.6 High in many nutrients—a stellar source of fiber
Beet/beetroot

 

2.8 High in folate, iron, copper, manganese, potassium, and inorganic nitrates, with benefits related to blood pressure regulation and exercise performance
Broccoli

 

2.6 One of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, loaded with vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, B vitamins, potassium, iron, manganese, antioxidants, and potent cancer-fighting nutrients. Also relatively high in protein vs most vegetables
Brussels Sprouts 2.6 Very high in vitamin K, potassium, folate and potent cancer-fighting antioxidants.
Carrots 2.8 High in vitamin K, vitamin B6, magnesium, and beta-carotene, an antioxidant that converts into vitamin A

 

Legumes grams fiber per 100 grams Health Bonus
Kidney Beans 6.4

 

Loaded with plant-based protein and various nutrients
Lentils

 

7.9 Very cheap and among the most nutritious of all foods, very high in protein and many important nutrients
Lima beans 5.3

Other high-fiber foods that create mealtime deliciousness and happy health, in grams per 100 gram serving:

  • Almonds: 12.5
  • Baked beans: 5.3
  • Chia seeds: 34.4
  • Coconuts: 9
  • Dark chocolate: 10.9
  • Oats: 10.6 grams
  • Pistachios: 10
  • Popcorn: 14.5
  • Pumpkin seeds: 18.4
  • Quinoa: 2.8
  • Sunflower seeds: 8.6
  • Sweet potatoes: 2.5
  • Walnuts: 7

Animal-Based Fiber? No.

In case you’re wondering, beef, pork, poultry, and fish are all zero-fiber foods. Eggs, milk, yogurt, all types of cheese and other dairy products don’t contain fiber. In other words, animal-based foods are free of fiber. Of course, they’re all loaded with other vital nutrients. They belong in a healthy diet, as long as they’re organic, unprocessed, and raised in nature, not in factories.

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, and it’s true that sugar and processed white flours don’t contribute to a healthy diet. But high fiber carbohydrate foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and pulses, are nutrient dense with vitamins and minerals, and they add filling bulk to your meals. Raw fruits and vegetables make great snacks and should be a bigger part of your healthy diet. Make the change, starting with your next meal or snack.

References

[i] hello healthy. “How to Eat Like a Successful MyFitnessPal User.”

[ii]Fiber Fact Sheet” International Food Information Council. Published NA. Last accessed January 27, 2019.

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