Fiber Fandom: Why People Who Focus on Fiber Get it Right

by Alexandra Liles, CHOP5 Wellness Blogger

For most people, when they think about fiber, they probably remember the mysterious powder their grandparents would stir into a tall glass of water, boring breakfast cereals like grape nuts, or perhaps even the last time they went to the bathroom. For me, fiber has come to be synonymous with good food. More specifically, fiber elicits smells, tastes and visions of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and hearty wholegrains. Fiber is an essential nutrient found in all plants (and mushrooms) and absent in all other foods.

Putting my plant-based bias aside, the real reason I am such a fiber fangirl is self-serving. I want to live a long, happy, comfortable life. More and more data show that people who eat more fiber live healthier, longer and happier lives. There is no fountain of youth, but fiber comes pretty darn close.

Fans of fiber live healthier lives, it’s true! It is well known that fiber helps keep our digestive systems healthy and helps lower cholesterol. As we learn more about our digestive systems, gut health, and the implications of increasing fiber intake, additional health benefits abound. On a fiber-focused podcast interview from last year, gastroenterologist and my personal fiber guru, Will Bulsiewicz discussed findings from his all-time favorite fiber study (yes, he has one of those). The study included 58 randomized control trials and over 135 million years of data from volunteers. The results found that when people increase their dietary fiber, they reduce the likelihood that they will be diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes and several types of cancer. They are also less likely to suffer a stroke in their lifetime.

Fans of fiber live longer lives too! The study also showed that by significantly increasing fiber intake, we can reduce our exposure to four of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. If that study isn’t enough to convince you, the Center for Disease Control also vouches for fiber. According to the CDC, upping fiber intake is important in preventing and managing diabetes as well. Diabetes is another top ten cause of mortality in the U.S.

Filling up on fiber will also help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, yet another top ten cause of death in our country. In a different study, about 3,700 healthy adults, ages 40 to 64, completed routine dietary surveys for 16 years. Researchers then monitored the participants for two decades to see which ones developed dementia. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the study revealed that study participants who consumed the most daily fiber had the lowest rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Fans of fiber have more fun: let’s talk about why… As I mentioned earlier, I am perhaps a bit biased. As a plant-based home chef and cooking coach I love putting as many plants as possible on my plate and the plates of those I am feeding. Personally, keeping my focus on fueling up on fiber is very fun and truly freeing for me. Shifting my focus to fiber allows me to say goodbye to strict, carb cutting diet regimens and calorie counting. With a fiber focused diet, we are free to focus on one thing: diversity.

There is just one simple rule of thumb to help you maximize the amount of various forms of fiber in your diet: eat as many different plants (and mushrooms) in a day as possible. If you stick with this one rule, you will be getting all the nutrition and fuel you need in a day, you’ll have fun with your food, and you won’t stress about whether you are eating “right.” I guarantee you won’t walk away from your meals feeling hungover from your food.

Perhaps this simplification surrounding meal time is at the heart of why increased dietary fiber intake was associated with a 10% lower odds of depression in adults and a 57% lower odds in adolescents, according to a meta-analysis from 2022. An article on the Zoe website by Tim Newman and Sammie Gill breaks down the findings further, explaining “each 5-gram increase in daily fiber intake was associated with a 5% reduction in depression risk.” To give you a frame of reference, five grams of fiber is roughly one large apple. As the saying goes– an apple a day keeps the doctor away and enough apples will also keep the Sunday scaries away as it turns out. What’s more, about 95% of serotonin, the “happy” molecule, is produced in our gut, the Zoe article goes on to explain. Many people mistakenly assume this is produced solely in our brains; however, this is not the case. As our gut breaks down the fibrous foods we eat, it feeds our “good” gut bacteria in the process, which has a huge influence on our serotonin system. Another indication that we all know in our gut that we need more plant foods on our plates.

So, if we all have a general sense that we should be eating more fruits and veggies and we now know that doing so decreases our total risk of multiple diseases, many causes of mortality, and depression and anxiety; then why aren’t we doing it? My guess is most people don’t understand what it looks like in practice to truly fill up on fiber. On average, adults in the U.S. are only getting around 15 grams of fiber per day when we really should be doubling that.

We can do this by adding a bit more intentionality to every food choice we make each day. Back to my one and only rule: eat as many plants as possible! If every fork full of food you enjoy today had at least a little bit of plants on it, there’s no way you’re only at 15 grams of fiber today. If that isn’t the case for you, just think about how many different plants you can incorporate into your next meal.

As an example, my favorite CHOP5 menu item at the moment is the Kale Quinoa Chop Salad, which has nine main ingredients and ten if you add-on their baked tofu like I do, all of which are good sources of fiber. If you include the avocado and the spices in the dressing, that’s over 11 different plants packed into one delicious, fiber-fueled bowl!

I invite you to give fiber fandom a try. Ditch the restrictive dieting methods and feel free to indulge in fibrous foods first and foremost! You might just surprise yourself with how good you end up feeling from top to bottom.