High-Fiber Diet: Pros, Cons, and What You Can Eat
- July 27, 2021
At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), most Americans do not meet their recommended daily allowance (RDA) for fiber. On a high-fiber diet, fiber consumption should at least meet or exceed the RDA for fiber—adult women should aim for 22–28 grams of fiber per day and men should try to get around 28–34 grams per day.
Increasing your intake of heart-healthy fiber as part of a balanced diet is associated with a number of benefits such as a reduced risk of chronic disease and cancer and improved digestive health. A high-fiber diet may also aid in weight loss.
Ideally, followers of a high-fiber eating plan should try to get all or most of their fiber from nutrient-rich foods rather than dietary supplements. And while fiber is a carbohydrate, it is not easily digestible. This means it can add bulk to satisfy feelings of fullness after a meal without spiking your blood sugar or adding too many extra calories. Also, fibrous foods often need extra chewing, which is another factor that can help increase satiety.
This informal diet is not marketed as a weight loss plan so it doesn’t require any calorie or carbohydrate counting. Learn more about the health benefits of adding more fiber to your diet plus tips for what you can eat on this plan.
“High-fiber diets are great for so many reasons—they keep you regular, can help with weight loss, are heart healthy, and are great for your gut and reducing overall inflammation. If you don’t eat a lot of fiber currently, slowly add it to your diet so that it’s well tolerated.”
—Kelly Plowe, MS, RD
Fiber comes only from plants, so you will need to include plenty of plant sources in a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutritious foods. The good news is that many plant sources are also nutrient-dense, packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that are beneficial for your health. The three most important kinds of dietary fiber include:
- Insoluble: This fiber comes from the walls of plant cells and it doesn’t dissolve in water or ferment in the colon like soluble fiber. It is found in whole grains, the skin of fruits that grow on trees, and many green vegetables. This is the kind of fiber that helps with digestive health and regularity.
- Soluble: This fiber is found in most plants, but especially in legumes and beans, root vegetables, many fruits, and some grains, such as oats and barley. “Good” bacteria in the colon use this kind of fiber as a food source, and it may help control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
- Prebiotic: This is a type of soluble fiber (called inulin or fructan) that is found in asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, bananas, and some root vegetables, as well as in certain grains.
You can add fiber to any meal or snack to increase your overall daily intake. Just do so gradually so that your digestive system can tolerate it.
Don’t worry too much about getting all the different kinds of fiber (soluble, insoluble, and prebiotic). As long as you are eating a diet that is rich in fiber overall, you can still reap the benefits.
When possible, get your fiber from food sources rather than using fiber supplements. Products promoted as “fiber-fortified” may also contain added sugars and other artificial ingredients, so check the nutrition label carefully.
Fiber can be helpful for people with certain digestive conditions. Consult your doctor to determine how much fiber you should be consuming, and whether or not fiber supplements would be helpful.
What to Eat
Nuts and seeds
What Not to Eat
Clear fruit juices
Fiber is especially found in the skins, seeds, and membranes of plants, so it’s best to enjoy as much of the plant as is edible. Juices often have little fiber, and peeling discards valuable fiber.
One cup of raspberries or blackberries has 8 grams of fiber and only 64 calories, which makes them some of the most fiber-dense foods you can eat. Most kinds of fruit pack a ton of fiber, but raspberries top most others (with double the fiber of blueberries and strawberries). Add them to your yogurt bowl or snack on them plain.
Other fruits that are very high in fiber include passionfruit, guavas, and pomegranate seeds (not juice). Dried fruits such as raisins, dates, and figs are high in fiber but are also high in sugar. They make great additions to oatmeal, but be aware of portion size.
Clear fruit juices, like grape and apple, contain very little fiber. It’s better to eat the whole fruit with skin when possible, rather than juice it. Orange juice with pulp does contain fiber, and prune juice is a very good source of fiber as well.
Vegetables are a great way to super-size meals and give you a hearty portion without adding too many calories. Using high-fiber veggies makes meals even more satisfying.
For breakfast, include veggies such as onions, green peppers, and spinach with your eggs for a fiber-rich, high-protein frittata. Enjoy a snack of high-fiber hummus dip paired with raw veggie dippers such as carrots, red peppers, green peppers, broccoli, and celery.
Choose whole grains over refined ones to boost fiber intake. For example, select 100% whole wheat bread instead of white bread (or wheat bread that isn’t made from 100% whole wheat). Stick with whole grains as much as possible to boost your fiber intake.
Oats are a great way to get the fiber you need, but not all oatmeal is created equal. Start with old-fashioned dry oats—a half-cup serving has four grams of fiber. To make it extra filling, prepare it “growing oatmeal” style with twice the liquid and double the cooking time. That’ll give you a much larger portion. For even more fiber, top it off with a cup of fresh fruit.
Beans are an amazing food to add to your diet. Not only are they naturally high in fiber, but they’re also packed with protein. Black beans, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans are all-stars—a half cup of any of them has around 5–6 grams of fiber. And they’re so versatile. You can use black beans to make veggie burgers, chili, and even desserts like black bean brownies. Edamame is a great snack that has 4 grams of fiber in a half-cup of shelled beans.
Split pea and lentil soups are made mostly of legumes. Add bulk and flavor with pearled barley (a high-fiber whole grain) and satisfying, high-fiber veggies like butternut squash and potatoes. Homemade soups can be made lower in fat and salt compared to what’s often found in soups at grocery stores.
Chia seeds pack 6 grams of fiber per tablespoon and ground flaxseeds have about 3 grams. They are easy additions to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, or salad dressings. Plus, they are rich sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Ground flaxseeds add a nutty flavor and you can use them in baking or breading. Chia seeds can also be used to make chia pudding, which is a satisfying breakfast or dessert.
Nuts and roasted pumpkin or squash seeds make a great snack food. Season them with autumn spices like cinnamon and nutmeg or savory spices like curry powder or cayenne pepper. You will get just over 5 grams of fiber in an ounce of pumpkin seeds (the whole seed, not the unshelled kernels).
Depending on your health needs, the amount of fiber you’ll add to your diet can vary. Choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods that are good sources of dietary fiber in addition to lean protein sources and healthy fats for a balanced diet.
The following shopping list offers a wide range of suggestions for getting started on a high-fiber plan. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy)
- Veggies (broccoli, beets, artichoke, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, eggplant, carrots, sweet potatoes)
- Fresh and frozen fruits (grapefruit, oranges, berries, bananas, apples, pears)
- Healthy fats (avocados, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, olive oil)
- Whole grains (quinoa, barley, amaranth, brown rice, oats)
- Dried legumes (black beans, lentils, kidney beans, split peas, chickpeas)
- Lean protein (chicken breast, turkey, tofu, halibut, salmon, eggs)
- Dairy products (feta cheese, parmesan, manchego, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese)
- Optional: Psyllium husk
On a high-fiber diet, you’ll want to try to include a source of dietary fiber at every meal. The following three-day meal plan offers a glimpse at what a few days on a well-balanced high-fiber diet could look like. Note that this meal plan is not all-inclusive, and if you do choose to follow this diet, there may be other meals that are more appropriate for your tastes, preferences, and budget.
Like all diets, the high-fiber diet has its benefits and drawbacks—but you may find that the downsides are relatively minor and can be overcome. Review the pros and cons to help you decide if this is a smart eating plan to meet your health goals.
- Bowel regularity: Fiber helps the colon do its job well so that it produces stool that’s bulky, but also soft enough to pass comfortably.
- Weight loss: Dietary fiber helps promote weight loss because it’s filling while also being low in calories. And when you eat more high-fiber foods, you have less room in your diet for foods that are not as nutrient-dense, such as refined carbohydrates. Fibrous foods can also be a good source of lean protein, instead of higher-fat sources like red meat.
- Heart health: Soluble fiber helps improve blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and can promote weight loss. All of these are risk factors for heart disease.
- Sustainable: Following a high-fiber diet is safe and healthy to continue for the long term.
- Intestinal gas: High-fiber foods, especially beans, have a reputation. Yes, it’s true that they can cause or worsen intestinal gas. It may be embarrassing, but it’s harmless and a sign that the good bacteria in the gut are doing their job. And prebiotic fiber can actually help make that gas less smelly.
- Abdominal bloating: Both gas and bloating are a result of consuming too much fiber, too fast. So if you plan to start a high-fiber diet, do it gradually. Add fiber a little bit at a time so that your digestive system can handle it.
- Learning curve: Most people aren’t getting enough fiber, which means that some people may find that cooking with high-fiber foods is unfamiliar territory and may take some time to learn.
Without any formal guidelines to follow, some people may not understand how to boost their fiber intake while also eating healthily. A high-fiber diet can be a healthy choice when it includes a variety of nutritious foods. Following a high-fiber diet while also consuming too many processed foods and added sugars is not a balanced approach to health.
A high-fiber diet abundant in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, is similar to several other well-balanced diets known to be heart-healthy and promote weight loss. For instance, a whole foods diet encourages whole grains and simple ingredients, especially fruits and vegetables, and limits processed foods.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is an eating plan developed by medical professionals to help patients with high blood pressure. It’s low in fat and sodium and high in nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and poultry. Similarly, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil. Research shows that following this plan can have a number of positive health benefits.
Similar to the high-fiber diet, these diets are likely to be high in fiber and other important nutrients. The high-fiber diet is also closely aligned with current dietary guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and low-fat dairy products. The USDA also recommends that Americans consume more fiber to meet their recommended daily intake, which is 22–28 grams for women and 28–34 grams for men.
A balanced diet that includes fiber-rich foods can also promote weight loss. To lose weight, the USDA recommends a reduction of 500 calories per day. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s a target of about 1,500 calories a day—but this number can vary based on age, sex, weight, height, and level of physical activity. To get an estimate of your own calorie needs, try this calculator.
Consuming more fiber-rich foods has several health benefits, including helping with weight loss. A diet high in fiber that also encourages a variety of nutrient-dense foods adheres to federal guidelines for a well-balanced diet.
There are plenty of good reasons to add more fiber to your diet. Here are some of the main health benefits.
Promotes Bowel Regularity
Consuming dietary fiber helps keep bowel movements regular and prevents constipation and hemorrhoids.
May Help Treat Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Fiber may be helpful for those with certain medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A 2017 study shows that people with IBS can benefit from soluble and prebiotic fiber when it’s added slowly to their diet. In addition, research indicates that increased fiber consumption can help those with Crohn’s disease manage their symptoms.
Improved Heart Health
Not only does dietary fiber promote a healthy heart, but recent research shows that it can also help to lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Reduced Risk of Cancer
A 2016 review of studies found that dietary fiber lowers the risk of cancer death as well. In particular, the improved digestion associated with dietary fiber may help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Lowered Blood Sugar
High-fiber intake can also reduce blood sugar levels, which is important for those with diabetes. Research shows that a fiber-rich diet can both prevent and help treat type 2 diabetes.
One study published in 2015 found that simply focusing on adding more fiber to your diet can lead to weight loss almost as effectively as following a strict American Heart Association diet.
While there are no common risks associated with a high-fiber diet, some people may experience unpleasant reactions when following this plan because of its effects on the colon.
May Cause Intestinal Distress
Consuming more fiber than your body can handle may cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain, loose stools or diarrhea, and even constipation. While these symptoms are typically mild, some people may experience more intestinal discomfort than others.
Not Compliant With a Low-FODMAP Diet
Some foods that are high in fiber are also high in FODMAPs, a group of carbohydrates that can cause symptoms in people with certain bowel diseases.
The evidence is convincing: Adding more fiber to your diet is a smart way to improve your health and, most likely, lose weight. Just use caution if you have any digestive health concerns or inflammatory bowel disease, and always add fiber to your diet gradually instead of all at once. If you do have a health condition and are interested in learning how you might benefit from a high-fiber diet, consult your healthcare provider for more advice.
Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.
If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.