Step Aside Protein—This Macronutrient Is Taking Over 2024

written by BREANNA WOODS, RD
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider

Fiber is long overdue for a rebrand, and 2024 is finally the year it’s going to happen. More than ever, I’m seeing people drop the quick-fix approach to nutrition and, instead, take steps for their health for the long haul. Especially with our obsession with gut health, it’s fiber’s time to shine. Other dietitians are calling it too, like Steph Grasso, who recently declared it her mission to make us all swoon over high-fiber foods just as much as she does. 

After years of trendy restrictive diets, followed by an obsession with protein, we’re officially in our whole food health era with room on the stage for more than one single nutrient. We still love you, protein, but it’s time to share your spotlight. Allow me to reintroduce you to fiber, a nutrient that is anything but boring and has much more to offer than you may realize. Ahead, the benefits of fiber and how to add more to your diet.

Fiber is lacking in our diets—here’s why

Ready for a shocking stat to kick things off? According to the USDA, 95 percent of Americans eat less than the recommended daily amount of fiber. And we’re missing the mark by a lot. While the average male and female should eat at least 38 and 25 grams daily, respectively, most Americans are eating closer to 15 grams daily (or less). First, let’s talk about why we’re failing so hard with our fiber goals. 

Diet quality

Our lack of fiber is directly related to shorting ourselves of whole foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, and legumes. All of these foods are great sources of fiber, and the hard truth is that we’re not eating enough of them. Don’t believe me? A 2019 CDC survey with over 400,000 respondents across the U.S. found that 12 percent of Americans meet the recommended daily intake of fruit, and only 10 percent meet the recommended intake of vegetables.

At the same time, the American diet is notorious for processed foods. I’m not here to shame those foods, and for the record, “processed” can mean a lot of things. However, fiber is commonly stripped during processing. For example, the flour used in many breads, crackers, cereals, and baked goods in the U.S. is made with wheat that was stripped of its fiber component. Lastly, some popular diets eliminate many high-fiber foods. Keto is one example, as it limits the macronutrient where we tend to get the most fiber: carbohydrates. Even our simple infatuation with protein tends to overshadow other nutrients like fiber when we plan meals

Fiber is misunderstood

A recent national survey with over 42,000 participants proves that most people don’t understand just how powerful fiber can be. The majority of survey participants could only name a single benefit of fiber: “more frequent bowel movements.” It’s not a wrong answer, but it leaves out five other key benefits recognized by the FDA, such as helping with glucose management and lowering cholesterol, which we’ll dive into below. 

The survey also found a strong correlation between nutrition knowledge and food choices. In other words, the people who knew more about fiber’s benefits were more likely to eat more high-fiber foods. This might sound like common sense, but it proves that simple education (or this “rebrand”) is key to filling the gaps in our fiber intake.

Why fiber is a superfood

It’s finally time to brag about our favorite nutrient of 2024. Here are the key benefits that make hitting your fiber goals totally worth it.

It keeps you “regular”

As it’s most known, fiber helps to increase bowel movements and prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber from foods like apple skins, broccoli, whole wheat flour, and nuts does not dissolve in water and, therefore, cannot be digested. This type of fiber adds bulk and attracts water to keep things moving along. Note that hydration is key here, too! Soluble fiber, found in foods like legumes, oats, sweet potatoes, and bananas, does dissolve in water, forming a gel-like substance. This type of fiber may help manage diarrhea and is key to some other benefits we’ll talk about below. Because it encourages regular bowel movements, fiber is also an important tool for the body to detoxify. Insoluble fiber binds to toxins and other waste products in the large intestine, transporting them to exit the body. 

It improves gut health

If you’re on the gut health trend, fiber should already be on your radar. While there’s still plenty of room for research on gut health overall, the overwhelming consensus is that fiber is not only beneficial but also necessary for gut health. First, fiber helps gut microbiota (bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your gut) flourish. Prebiotic dietary fiber from foods like garlic, onions, chicory, oats, and soybeans serve as food for the good bacteria in the gut, supporting growth and balance. Then, those bacteria get to work producing nutrients that keep your digestive tract healthy and protect against disease.

It improves blood sugar 

A high-fiber diet has been linked to lower blood sugar and better blood glucose balance. For example, one 2020 study compared blood sugar after eating a snack with no fiber versus a snack with fiber, finding that not only did the snack with fiber promote lower blood sugar, but the effect lasted until the following day. This benefit is likely related to fiber’s ability to slow digestion, as well as interactions with gut microbiota. As soluble fiber slows carbohydrate digestion, it allows the body to absorb glucose more slowly. In addition, the byproducts of fiber fermentation in the gut may help to slow glucose absorption.

Over time, balancing glucose levels, as opposed to frequent “spikes” of glucose following meals or snacks, may support cardiovascular health, energy levels, hormone balance, mental health, and the immune system.

It helps reduce inflammation

In the small intestine, fiber binds to cholesterol and prevents absorption. It also reduces cholesterol production in the liver. When prebiotic fiber “feeds” good bacteria in the gut, they produce short-chain fatty acids, which fight inflammation. This helps support healthy arteries and, therefore, lower blood pressure. Blood sugar control may also help limit inflammation.

Source: Payton Butler | Dupe

Ways to get more fiber

No more “fiber tastes like cardboard” slander. If you’re bringing more fiber into your life in 2024, remember to start slow so your body can adjust. Trust me, going from 0 to 100 in this case is not the move. It’s also a good idea to chat with your doctor before changing your diet, especially if you’re managing any kind of digestive condition. Here are some easy, delicious ways to meet your fiber goals.

1. Start your day strong

It’s easy to make a good dent in your fiber goals first thing in the morning with superfoods, even if you’re not a big breakfast eater. A cup of berries gives you 9 grams of fiber! Snack on them as is, add them to a smoothie, or enjoy them on your oatmeal (another easy 4 grams of fiber per serving). If you’re looking for minimal meal prep, try chia pudding (around 10 grams per serving, depending on the recipe).

2. Bulk up your snacks

I love to sneak in a few extra grams of fiber with snacks. This is a great time to pair fresh fruits and veggies with your favorite dip or munch on nuts or whole-grain crackers. You can even get an easy 3 grams of fiber from an applesauce pouch when you’re in a pinch.

3. Make your meals count

My favorite way to add fiber (read: the way that requires the least effort) is to garnish my meal with high-fiber foods. We already talked about adding berries and seeds at breakfast, but you can use the same hack all day long. At lunch and dinner, I like to add avocado (4 grams of fiber per ¼ cup) and legumes wherever I can. I add lentils or blended white beans to pasta sauce (you can even add these to smoothies! I promise you won’t notice), choose fiber-rich pasta and grains whenever possible, and keep my eye out for ways to add color.