While some keto or low-carb proponents claim fiber is useless at best and actively harmful at worst, I come down on the side that says fiber is probably helpful for most people. Some folks have persistently better responses to low- or no-fiber keto diets, and I won’t argue with that—I’ve seen it happen and I’ve read the studies where de-emphasizing fiber can actually improve constipation, for example.
I’ll just say that I have an opposite reaction, and, most importantly, I know most of my readers love eating a variety of plant foods that also happen to contain a ton of great nutrients in addition to fiber.
Do I buy into the idea that fiber is important because it is every human being’s responsibility to produce as much colonic bulk as humanly possible? No.
Do I think we should be consistently pushing the limits of our digestive tracts, performing feats of bathroom heroism so momentous they border on Herculean, and making sure the toilet bowl buckles beneath us? No.
The value of fiber lies not in its coarseness, its tendency to form colonic bulk. The true value lies in its fermentability.A fermentable fiber is a prebiotic fiber—fiber that feeds our gut bacteria. We need those little guys to be in tip-top shape to aid in digestion, immunity, and brain health. Our gut bacteria form a physical barrier against incursions and colonization by pathogenic bacteria; they take up room along the gut lining so pathogens can’t. After antibiotic treatment where both good and bad gut flora are indiscriminately wiped out, pathogenic obesity-promoting bacteria take advantage of the open space.1
When our gut bacteria eat prebiotics, they also give off metabolites like butyric acid—a short chain fatty acid that our colonic cells use as an energy source and which improves metabolic health. Gut bacteria also convert antinutrients like phytic acid into nutrients like inositol. The almond meal-obsessed keto eater would do well to have a powerful gut biome set up to convert all that phytic acid to inositol.
Now, some writers will come up with specific blends of fibers, powders, and gums to create the “optimal” prebiotic diet for your gut bacteria, but that’s pretty silly. The gut is a complicated place. We’ve barely begun to even identify all its inhabitants. A better option is to eat foods that contain a variety of prebiotic fibers. Luckily, some of the fibrous foods with the best nutrient profiles also happen to be extremely keto-friendly.
Best Ways to Get Fiber on Keto
1) Almonds and pistachios
Nuts are usually favored by health-conscious folks for a few reasons. They like the monounsaturated fat. They like the mineral profile, or the complete protein, or their ability to dissemble into nut meals and form baked goods. But what gets short shrift is the fiber content. Almonds and pistachios in particular contain fiber with potent prebiotic effects. People who eat almonds, and to an even greater extent pistachios, end up with improved gut bacteria profiles.2
2) Green bananas
Ripe bananas are difficult to squeeze into a ketogenic diet. The green banana—an unripe one—is mostly resistant starch, a type of starch that cannot be digested. It travels untouched until colonic bacteria metabolize it and is one of the best stimulators we know of butyric acid production. And sure, you could do a spoonful of raw potato starch to get your resistant starch, but the beauty of the green banana is that it also provides potassium, an important electrolyte.
3) Wild blueberries
Blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries, and strawberries are all loaded with fiber, and you should eat them. They’re lower carb than you think, they’re loaded with polyphenols, and topped with some real whipped cream they make a fantastic dessert. But wild blueberries are special. They’re smaller than other berries, which increases the amount of skin per ounce you get, and skin is where all the polyphenols and fiber lie. Heck, even the blueberry’s polyphenols have prebiotic effects on the gut biome.3
A few years ago, I wrote a whole post on mushrooms. Suffice it to say, they’re quite wonderful, bordering on magical. I did not discuss the fiber they contain, though. It turns out that all the various mushroom polysaccharides/fibers, including beta-glucans, mannans, chitin, xylans, and galactans, also act as potent prebiotics that improve the health of the host.4
Your standard avocado has about 12 to 15 grams of fiber, if you eat the whole thing. I generally enjoy one a day myself.
Great with chili powder, salt, and lime juice, jicama is about 11 grams of carbs per cup, but half of those are inulin, a potent prebiotic fiber with a tendency to really ramp up butyrate production.
Onions are another fantastic source of inulin. They go into almost every dish of every cuisine, so there’s no excuse not to be eating onions.
I’ve been known to treat garlic like a vegetable, roasting an entire cast iron pan full until brown and sweet and chewy. They’re another great source of prebiotic fiber.
Leeks have more inulin than onions. Try this soup that combines leeks, garlic, and mushrooms in one outstanding bowl.
Broccolini is a major part of my favorite meal of the day—my Big-Ass Keto Salad. Broccoli (and cruciferous vegetables in general) has been shown to have modulatory effects on the gut biome.5
Kraut gives you two in one. It’s a fermented food, which is great for the gut biome. And it’s cabbage, which is very fibrous. Even pasteurized kraut improves gut health.6
Obligate carnivores like cheetahs who don’t eat any plants (willingly) still have gut bacteria. These gut bacteria thrive on “animal fiber,” the gristle and cartilage and other bits of connective tissue that comprise a good 20 to 30% of the walking weight of a prey animal. Humans are not obligate carnivores, but eating the entire animal has been a mainstay of advanced hominid existence for millions of years. I find it very likely that something, someone, somewhere inside our guts is breaking down the animal fiber we eat—so you’d better be eating some!
Not so tough, is it? It’s not like I’m suggesting you load up on bran muffins or psyllium smoothies. I don’t want you dumping flax meal into everything or munching on those awful fiber gummies. Just eat some basic, healthy, low-carb plant matter—foods that don’t really scream “fiber”—and the rest will take care of itself.
What’s your favorite low-carb source of fiber? Let me know down below.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.