Fiber is material that can’t be digested by the body. While it might seem odd to eat something that your body can’t absorb, fiber serves other important purposes
. Fiber allows the digestive system to soak up more nutrients, feeds gut bacteria, and helps prevent constipation. Fiber has other benefits, too – it can help the body control cholesterol and blood sugar levels and reduce a person’s risk of conditions like diabetes and heart disease. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and both are important for good health. Foods that come from plants that have a lot of fiber can also help build up a layer of mucus
in the intestines. This is a good thing – it’s where the healthy bacteria live and work to digest food. Fibrous foods help build up this layer, while foods that are processed or have a lot of sugar wear down this layer. There is one caveat to eating a lot of fiber. Many high-fiber superfoods fall into a category called FODMAPs
. FODMAPs are molecules found in certain fruits (apples, blackberries, cherries, dates, pears), certain vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, mushrooms, onion, peas), dairy products, beans, wheat, and some types of sweeteners (honey, high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol). FODMAPs are perfectly fine for most people to eat. However, some people, such as those with IBS, may be more sensitive to these foods and should eat them in lower amounts
. If you want to avoid these foods, try to find other ways to get a lot of fiber into your diet.
Whole grains have large quantities of both soluble and insoluble fiber, in addition to B vitamins, phytonutrients, and iron. Whole grains use the entire kernel of the grain. Refined grains are more processed, which removes a lot of the fiber as well as vitamins and minerals. To get more whole grains into your diet, substitute them for refined grains – for example, use brown rice instead of white rice, or wheat bread or pasta instead of the regular variety. Or try reaching for oatmeal for breakfast, or popcorn for a snack. You can also try cooking up some new grains as a side dish, such as quinoa, bulgur, or wheat berries. Nuts, seeds, and legumes also have high levels of fiber. Legumes include foods like beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, and soybeans, and are often thought of as superfoods because of all the health benefits they provide. Many legumes can be easily incorporated into side dishes. Nuts and seeds also make for great salad toppers, or a filling snack in between meals. Fresh produce also contains a lot of fiber. Some high-fiber fruit and vegetable superfoods include:
- Berries: In addition to fiber, berries often have other health-boosting nutrients like vitamin C and antioxidants. They can be easily added to any meal. Try topping yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal with blueberries or strawberries. Or blend frozen berries with other superfoods like yogurt, almond milk, or coconut water to make an extra nutritious smoothie. Add them to other meals by throwing them on top of salads or into desserts.
- Leafy greens: Superfoods like spinach, kale, and collard greens have a lot of vitamins A, C, E, and K, B vitamins, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Make up a salad with some greens, sauté them in olive oil, or toss some in a soup for an easy superfood boost.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy are a part of the cruciferous vegetable family. Some leafy greens like kale also fall into this category. Cruciferous vegetables contain immune-boosting phytochemicals as well as vitamins like folate and vitamin K. Try steaming, roasting, or stir-frying cruciferous vegetables as a side dish.
Many plant-based superfoods contain polyphenols, antioxidants that repair damage and heal cells. When we eat these molecules, the cells of our intestines can’t absorb them very well, so they start piling up in the large intestine, where our gut bacteria use them as food and break them down so that our bodies can benefit from them. Polyphenols can help the digestive system in several ways. They can:
- Help keep bad bacteria from growing
- Encourage good bacteria to grow
- Help bacteria form a stronger barrier in order to protect the intestines from damage
- Boost metabolism and help fight diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve the immune system
- Protect against colon cancer
Coffee and tea both contain different types of polyphenols. Many fruits also contain these molecules, especially blueberries, kiwis, apples, and reddish-colored fruits like strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and blackberries. Other foods with polyphenols are onions, soy, red wine, and dark chocolate.