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How to: Increase your fiber intake (slowly!)

Author: Marissa Pearrow

Okay, so it’s happening. You’ve committed. You’re working on losing weight or just eating a healthier diet (yay!). You’ve swapped out some of the processed foods for produce, and you’re adding more whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to your meals.

So why, oh why, is your stomach not thanking you for the good work you’re doing? Isn’t this supposed to be much healthier?

Not to worry, you are most definitely doing your body a favor in the end with all those nutrient-rich, water-dense foods, but the fiber in these may be tough on your gut when you’re first starting out. What exactly is fiber? It is the indigestible part of the plant. You can think of it as a scrub brush for your organs. It removes toxins from your system and slows digestion to help you stay fuller for much longer.

Your digestive tract, specifically your small intestine and colon, are full of bacteria- around 30 trillion little guys, responsible for digesting and assimilating nutrients so that you have everything you need to thrive. They feed on the food you eat (symbiosis for the win!), so you have dense populations of strains of bacteria that like what you’ve been eating. So what happens if you have not been eating a lot of fiber? The bacteria that love it are not going to be hanging out in there. In contrast, strains of not-so-helpful bacteria may be overpopulated from feeding on simple sugars and heavy portions of meat and dairy. So let’s talk about how to go about restoring balance to the force, shall we?

The average American gets only 14 grams of fiber a day, when you need around 30 grams for optimal health and wellness. So… while I know you are just so excited to eat all the vegetables on the planet, when adding in these fiber-rich plants, it is helpful to focus on increasing the amount of fiber you are eating SLOWLY so as not to flood your intestines with something they’re not ready for.

You may have heard of probiotics and probiotic foods, which contain those strains of good bacteria to give your gut health a boost. But there are also prebiotic foods, which serve to feed and nurture those fiber-munching probiotics so they can flourish. Most fibrous plants are prebiotics, but those especially noted for their prebiotic power include bananas, oats, garlic, asparagus, barley, apples, artichokes, flaxseeds, and cacao.

With these things in mind, you can start meal planning for a happy, healthy gut! Without further ado, here are some tips for building up the fiber in your life.

Tips for fruits and veggies:

Fruits and vegetables are the most water-dense among plant foods, delivering tons of hydration and nutrients straight to your cells! These are an essential piece of weight loss, so here are some tips for adding them into your nutrition plan:

  1.  Start with lots of fruit and veggies that are less fiber dense, such as potatoes, squash, carrots, green beans, and cooked greens. Slowly start adding in more fiber over time, like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.
  2. Steaming, roasting, or sautéing your veggies makes them the easiest for your body to digest. Use a steamer basket in order to prevent the nutrients from leaching out into the water when steaming.
  3. If you are going to eat a salad or raw veggies, start with those and finish with something hot. This settles your stomach since your digestive tract is quite warm and has to do a lot more work to heat up and break down cold, raw food.

Tips for nuts and seeds:

Nuts and seeds are incredible sources of healthy fats and omega 3’s which your gut bacteria love. The most fiber dense include almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, and macadamias.

  1. If nuts aren’t sitting super well with you, you can try soaking, sprouting, or fermenting them.
  2. There are many delicious nut “cheese” recipes you can make by soaking them first- yum!
  3. You can also try some seeds that don’t have such a thick outer shell, like hemp, chia, or ground flax.

Tips for beans and legumes:

Beans, beans the magical fruit… I know you’ve heard that line before! They really are magical in all seriousness. They’re excellent sources of protein and help to lower and maintain blood sugar levels (more weight loss for you).

  1. In order to avoid the bean bloat, follow a similar protocol to what we talked about with the nuts. Soaking them removes some of the indigestible sugars that cause gas, and sprouting does the same while making certain vitamins and minerals more available for your body to absorb.
  2. Tempeh is a fermented bean product that is another great choice for supporting gut health because it’s full of probiotics!
  3. Peas, lima beans, and navy beans can be easiest to digest from this category, so give these a go first.
  4. Fermented cacao nibs are raw chocolate and are both a probiotic and prebiotic food! You can add these into smoothies and desserts for a sugar-free chocolatey taste.

Tips for whole grains:

Whole grains are incredible sources of so many key nutrients. A grain is considered whole when it is not stripped of its fiber-dense outer coating. Being that this coating is there to protect the plant from pesky bugs, it can be harder to digest, which is awesome for keeping you fuller for longer, but maybe not so awesome if you’re just hopping onto the fiber train.

  1. It is ok to have some lightly processed grains, like rolled oats or white rice. You can work up to adding steel cut oats and brown rice into the mix over time.
  2. As with nuts and legumes, sprouting is always an option too.
  3. Wheat can be hard on some people’s digestive tract, so try swapping it out for quinoa or buckwheat and see how you feel.

Good luck on your plant-eating adventures, and cheers to a healthier, happier you!