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How to Add More Fiber Into Your Holiday Meals

There’s a lot to love about the holiday season: the food, the presents, and time spent with the people you love. But we also can’t ignore the downsides, especially the overeating on high-calorie meals and desserts. 

Since the holidays are a time to indulge and not feel bad about it, clean eating and portion control is often out of the question. Luckily, there’s still one thing you can do to make your holiday fare healthier: including more fiber!

Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plant food. It helps reduce the calorie load of meals and provides added health benefits along the way. And if you think high-fiber dinners can’t be tasty, think again! Many Thanksgiving and Christmas staples already have lots of fiber in them, and others are easy to tweak. 

Here is more on why fiber is good for you and how to make high-fiber holiday dinners and desserts.

Benefits of Fiber 

Dietary fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate the body can’t break down or digest. Nonetheless, it plays an important role in your health. Experts recommend women get 25-32g and men 30-35g of dietary fiber every day. Unfortunately, most people are not meeting this requirement. 

One reason this is concerning given that many researchers believe much of our 21st-century health problems can be attributed to low intake of dietary fiber. Too little fiber in a person’s diet, for example, has been linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Unsurprisingly, increasing fiber intake protects against chronic disease. 

Here are the benefits of fiber explained in more detail: 

Keeps you regular

Fiber increases stool bulk and makes stool softer, thus easier to pass. One narrative review found that dietary fiber helped with chronic constipation in five out of the seven studies examined. It also found fiber worked where constipation was due to Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Helps with weight loss

High-fiber meals are filling, helping with weight loss and preventing weight gain. Soluble fiber — which absorbs water and forms a gel in your digestive tract — is especially beneficial in this regard. This type of fiber slows down digestion, increasing feelings of fullness. It also prevents blood sugar spikes that can lead to weight gain. 

Supports metabolic health

Fiber contributes to greater insulin sensitivity and reduced risk of metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, insoluble fiber seems to provide most of the metabolic benefits associated with fiber intake. Fiber reduces the absorption and release of glucose, which helps with glycemic control and insulin release. 

Protects gut health

The health of your gut depends a lot on your fiber intake. Beneficial gut bacteria ferment soluble fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids as a byproduct. These fatty acids protect the lining of your intestines. Fiber also prevents constipation and diarrhea, which further enhances the health and functioning of your gut. Fiber was even linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

Lowers inflammation

Low-grade inflammation is believed to underlie many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. By increasing the production of short-chain fatty acids, fiber curbs inflammation in the gut. Researchers believe its anti-inflammatory effect may even be systemic, i.e. that it can help lower inflammation beyond the gut. 

Protects heart health

Because fiber keeps you lean, metabolically healthy, and free from chronic inflammation, it also results in better cardiovascular health. Fiber also absorbs fat and cholesterol in the digestive tract, which further reduces your risk of heart disease. 

Prevents depression

Many studies have found a link between fiber intake and a lower risk of depression. Experts believe this has something to do with the gut-brain axis, the communication between nerves in the gut and the brain. An imbalance in gut bacteria seems to contribute to mental health problems, and fiber can reverse this issue.

How to Add Fiber To Holiday Feasts

As you plan your Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner this year, keep fiber in mind. Making time-honored meals fiber-rich is easy. All you need to do is include more whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits and make swaps where needed. Here’s more on how to go about that:

1. Stick to whole grain everything  

Make your Thanksgiving rolls with whole grain flour and stuffing with whole wheat bread. Consider making whole-grain pie crusts, fiber-infused cookies, and using whole grain flour in casseroles. They taste just as great as the original but are so much healthier. And when making stuffed mushrooms, use wheat bran in place of breadcrumbs.

2. Serve more side dishes

Skillet green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts, butternut squash soup, candied yams, sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, roast veggies, the list goes on. Side dishes are always plant-based, and many of those traditionally served during holiday dinners happen to be high in good-for-you fiber. 

3. Don’t peel fruit and veg

The skin of fruits and veggies also contains fiber. If safe to eat, don’t remove the skin from apples or potatoes in your Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners and desserts. If making apple pie, for instance, cut the apples into small squares so the texture doesn’t end up overly chewy. The same holds for Waldorf salad and herb and apple stuffing. 

 4. Skip the mashed potatoes

And make smashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, or twice-baked potatoes all with the skin on instead. Mashed potatoes don’t provide any fiber since their fiber is only in the skin. Alternatively, you could swap the mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower or mashed sweet potatoes since both are high in fiber.

5. Nuts and seeds to everything

A handful of nuts and seeds sprinkled over casseroles, salads, and pie toppings helps sneak in a little bit of fiber. Nuts provide 4 to 11g of fiber in a100g serving. Plus, they have heart-healthy fats, further adding to the healthfulness of your meals.

6. Make sugar-free cranberry sauce 

Cranberries provide about 3.6g in a cup. Unfortunately, cranberry sauce provides more sugar than it does fiber. For a healthier cranberry sauce that adds fiber to your main meal, make cranberry sauce sweetened with pitted dates or yacon syrup. 

7. Fruit, veg, and nut dessert

Examples include pumpkin pie, apple pie, carrot cake, pumpkin roll, pecan pie, poached pears, and cranberry pie. Beetroot brownies, avocado mousse, zucchini cake, and fruit salad are non-traditional options. Also, feel free to reduce the amount of sugar called for in the recipe. Most fruit is naturally sweet, and reducing added sugar helps the fiber stand out. 


A Word of Warning

Some of your guests may have nut allergies, in which case adding nuts to salads and casseroles can leave them with few options on your table. Make sure you know about any food sensitivities before planning your holiday grub. 

Another thing to note is that while fiber is good, too much of it can cause digestive upset. Symptoms of too much fiber include gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and low appetite. These can appear after eating 70g of fiber in a day. 

However, how much fiber a person can tolerate depends on how used to it they are. It’s generally advised to gradually increase fiber intake so gut bacteria can have time to adjust. Your guests may not be used to eating high-fiber meals, so it’s ok to make some of your dinner options fiber-loaded and others low in fiber, e.g. mashed potatoes and bread rolls. 


References: 

Barber TM, Kabisch S, Pfeiffer AFH, Weickert MO. The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):3209. Published 2020 Oct 21. doi:10.3390/nu12103209

Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota's effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017;7(4):987. Published 2017 Sep 15. doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987

Camire ME, Kubow S, Donnelly DJ. Potatoes and human health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009;49(10):823-840. doi:10.1080/10408390903041996

Ros E. Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients. 2010;2(7):652-682. doi:10.3390/nu2070652

Fiber–How (n.d.)

https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/sites/default/files/u110/TooMuchFiber082015.pdf