Healthy digestion is one of my favorite health topics, not because I like to gross people out, but because healthy digestion is a key to true wellness, and healthy fiber from plants is the way to get there. Here are the 10 best high fiber foods for healthy digestion.
Research suggests that more than 90 percent of Americans aren’t meeting their daily fiber requirement, which is 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men.
Our low fiber intake is the result of poor dietary choices. Most people eat what’s known as the standard American diet, a diet that is high in processed foods and animal foods, which contain little or no fiber, and usually lacks fresh, whole fruits and veggies. Fiber is ONLY found in plant foods– and this is one of a million reasons why it’s so important to eat a good quantity of fruits and vegetables.
Lack of fiber can lead to constipation, irritability, discomfort, skin issues, and other problems. Constipation is uncomfortable in the short term, but chronic or long-term constipation can lead to many serious health problems.
Optimally, the food you eat this morning leaves your body by the next morning, if not sooner. But if your system is a bit sluggish- because of stress, poor dietary habits, or medications, you may not be moving waste fast enough. This is the concept of transit time, as presented in the video above by Dr. Greger of Nutrition Facts. Transit time is the speed at which food passes through our system.
Think about this: if you eat a low-fiber meal on Monday, and more low-fiber meals throughout the week, you may not eliminate that food until Friday, which means the same meal is sitting around in your gut rotting. It sounds horrible, but it’s true. This is especially likely if you eat large amounts of animal food (with no fiber) and not enough plant-based food (high in fiber).
Along with being gross, this old waste matter is pretty problematic when left to hang around in our gut. Not only can it lead to digestive distress (gas, bloating, indigestion) it can also lead to weight gain, damage to the intestinal walls (because the stool hardens the longer it sits in the intestines, which makes it harder to move through the system), and if left untreated, long-term constipation can lead to colon and rectal cancers. To determine your ‘transit time’ Dr. Greger recommends eating a bunch of beets, and then waiting to see when your poop turns red- this is your transit time. Of course, too quick a transit time and you might have a different problem, so go see your doctor about that too.
Here are some of the best high fiber foods and suggested high fiber recipes so you can get these foods into your daily diet and get things moving along. All fiber content information is from the USDA database, with additional nutritional information from World’s Healthiest Foods.
But first, water
OK, not a food. But perhaps the most important way to improve your digestion, water helps move things along in your digestive track and keeps everything cleaned out. If you are constipated more often than not, you probably need to add more fiber to your diet with the foods below, but also increase your intake of water. And by water, I mean water– not juice, coffee, tea or soda. Extra water is super important if you start adding high fiber foods and supplements into your diet. Too much fiber and not enough water leads to bloating and constipation because the stool cannot move properly in the bowels.
1. Chia seeds
These awesome seeds are healthy for our whole body, but especially digestion. Though they are super tiny, chia seeds offer a high dose of fiber (about 10 grams per ounce). Chia seeds also contain healthy fatty acids, calcium, iron, and a good amount of protein too. Eating too much chia without adequate water can lead to some digestive traffic jams, so any time you add chia to a recipe or take as a supplement, be sure to increase your water intake to ensure the fiber can do its work.
The easiest way to eat chia is just to sprinkle atop oatmeal, smoothies or salads, but you can also use in recipes like chia pudding. I really like chia mixed into juice, iced tea, or lemonade; use about 1 teaspoon for 8 ounces of liquid, and be sure to shake it up a few times so the seeds can disperse evenly. Ground chia can also be used as a binding ingredient in vegan baking.
Perhaps the cheapest item on the list, oats are a great way to get your digestive system moving swiftly. Whole rolled oats are loaded with soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are essential for a healthy digestive system. Soluble fiber, which turns into a gel-like mass, helps bind with food to flush it out, while insoluble fiber is the roughage that helps make your waste more bulky and easier to move along. As an added bonus, oats have been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of breast cancer, by binding with excess cholesterol and estrogen and flushing them out of the body, reducing your risk for heart disease and breast cancer.
3. Brown rice
Did you know that white rice and brown rice are the same plant? Brown rice contains the hull and germ, which is where the fiber and natural oils are hidden, making it a healthier choice than white rice, which has the hull stripped off. Brown rice is also high in protein, thiamine, calcium, manganese, selenium, phosphorus and magnesium. At 3.5 grams of fiber for each cup of cooked brown rice (compared to just .6 grams/cup for white rice), it’s not the highest on the list, but when combined into a healthy meal with stir-fried veggies and other plant-based foods, it makes a fiber-rich meal.
4. Nutritional yeast
That’s right, our favorite condiment has nutritional benefits to match its wildly awesome flavor. If you’re not familiar, nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast that is a yellow flaky powder. Think of it like vegan parmesan: sprinkle on pasta, veggies, mix into dressings, use in marinades. It goes everywhere, and with 4 grams of fiber per heaping Tablespoon, it helps you go, too. Fiber content can vary between brands, so read your labels to be sure. Red Star nutritional yeast has 4 grams/Tbsp, Bob’s Red Mill has less than 1 gram/Tbsp, while Bragg’s only has 1 gram/Tablespoon. Still pretty good for a condiment, and if you use a lot like I do, it’s an added fiber bonus!
Read more about how to use nutritional yeast.
5. Leafy Greens
We love our leafy greens so much. Leafy greens have tons of vitamins and minerals, they are loaded with calcium, protein… and, of course, fiber! Leafy greens like kale, collards, and chard have a range of fiber amounts, but it’s all pretty high. 1 cup of cooked kale has 2.6 grams of fiber, while 1 cup of cooked collards has 8 grams per cup. Chard has 3.7 grams/cup.
We have too many recipes for greens to share them all here, but these are the favorites. Kale Pesto, Favorite Kale Salad, Sweet Potato and Kale Enchiladas, Pasta with Kale & Beans, Super Collard Greens Rolls, + 6 collard greens recipes, and Soba Noodles with Chard.
Whether you choose brown, green, red or black, lentils are a fiber powerhouse. One cup of cooked lentils contains about 16 grams of fiber, which is about 60% of your daily needs. Lentils are cheap (find them in the bulk section for the lowest price), quick to cook, and can be used in dozens of recipes from soups to salads to main dishes.
For something different, split peas have a similar fiber content and a totally different flavor for a whole year full of soups. Split peas can be yellow or green and can be made into curries, stews and soups. These require a longer cooking time but are great for boosting your fiber intake. Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse all around: learn some more reasons to eat lentils.
Lentils cook so fast you can make them for dinner tonight! Here are our favorite lentil recipes: Tamarind Red Lentil Curry, Red Lentil Soup, Quick Lentil Wraps, Vegan Sloppy Joes, and Lemon Miso Lentil Soup.
Buckwheat is a wacky grain that has kinda a hippie reputation, but you should add it into your diet anyway. Buckwheat has a whopping 17 grams of fiber per cup, so it’s almost as powerful as lentils! Buckwheat is cooked easily like brown rice, and can be added to pilafs, stuffing, or cooled and added to salads for a whole-grain boost. It’s technically a seed (related to beets, go figure), so it’s naturally gluten free. Buckwheat flour is a great, adding a rich, earthy flavor to your baked goods. Purchase hulled buckwheat raw or toasted (kasha) at your local health food store.
8. Cabbage and Sauerkraut
Cabbage, whether red, green, or curly, is an excellent everyday superfood for good poop. It’s inexpensive, and can be used in coleslaw, salads, and in stir-fries too. This humble veggie is loaded with vitamins like C, K and B vitamins, along with minerals like manganese, copper, iron and selenium. Finally, like other cruciferous veggies, cabbage is high in antioxidants. Raw cabbage has just about 3 grams of fiber/cup, and the roughage benefits are big!
My favorite way to eat cabbage is as sauerkraut. Cabbage is made into kraut by a natural process called lacto-fermentation, where good bacteria in the vegetables digest the sugars, leaving all the vitamins and minerals intact, but change the cabbage into a probiotic superfood for your gut. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that help balance your gut, leading to better poop, less gas, and even better immunity. Kimchi is another form of fermented cabbage that originated in Korea, and offers the same benefits with a spicy kick. Kraut and kimchi are easy to make at home, and a great way to preserve the farmer’s market bounty this summer.
Cabbage is versatile and yummy in tons of recipes: Millet Fried Rice and Superfood Salad are just two examples. And here’s how to eat Kraut: add to all salads, top your burgers, add to sandwiches, or cook with some vegan sausage for a classic German meal.
9. Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk is a teeny seed from a grass that is sold as a loose supplement in the bulk foods aisle, or in the wellness section of your favorite natural foods store. It’s often found under names like ‘colon cleanse’ or under the brand name Metamucil. It has almost no flavor, and is easy to take daily or just on occasion (for example, when traveling or after a not-so-healthy weekend). It contains about 6 grams of fiber per tablespoon, and like oats contain a good amount of both soluble and insoluble fibers to help move food quickly out of your system.
Psyllium is a supplement (unlike the other foods here), so do use carefully. Always mix psyllium with a good amount of water, and follow with a full glass of water to keep your system hydrated. Too much fiber and not enough water means gas or a digestive traffic jam, neither of which feels very good. Also, if you’re adding psyllium into your diet for the first time, start with a small amount (about a teaspoon) and increase slowly to give your body a chance to adjust to the increase in fiber. Psyllium can also be used as a vegan binding agent for baked goods, so try to swap out for ground flaxseeds in your favorite vegan cookie recipe.
10. Dried Figs
Dried figs are so wonderfully delicious that it’s just a bonus that they are so good for you! Fresh figs are often hard to find and are usually quite expensive. But dried figs are sturdy and can be found year round. I prefer the darker, sweeter black mission figs, but it seems across the board the figs are great for fiber. Dried figs contain 15 grams of fiber/cup, which is about half your daily recommended amount. Snacking on a few of these will keep you full and help you get your daily fiber intake in a sweet way.
Skip the overly sweet Fig Newtons and eat figs out of hand for a sweet treat, and if you’re feeling creative try these dried fig recipes: Jason Wrobel’s Homemade Fig Newtons, and Emily’s Raw Fig Bars on This Rawsome Vegan Life.
Part of this post appeared previously on Care2