Get More Fiber in Your Diet

More Fiber (Image by Rob Owen-Wahl)
More Fiber (Image by Rob Owen-Wahl)

What Is Dietary Fiber?

Dietary fiber, also called roughage or bulk, is the indigestible portion of plant food. Rather than be broken down and absorbed for nutrients fiber passes through the body relatively intact. There are two types of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber – dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material.
  • Insoluble fiber – does not dissolve in water.

Both types of fiber are important components of healthy nutrition.

How Much Dietary Fiber Is Needed?

The table below shows how many grams of fiber per day are recommended for children and adults:

  • Children aged 1-3:             19 grams/day
  • Children aged 4-8:            25 grams/day
  • Females aged 9-13:            26 grams/day
  • Males aged 9-13:            31 grams/day
  • Females 14-18:            29 grams/day
  • Males aged 14-18:            38 grams/day
  • Women 50 or less:            25 grams/day
  • Women 51 or more:            21 grams/day
  • Men 50 or less:            38 grams/day
  • Men 51 or more:            30 grams/day

(Sources: The American Heart Association for children; The Institute of Medicine for adults)

Increasing the amount of fiber consumed should be done gradually, over a period of weeks, to avoid gas and bloating. Plenty of water should be consumed as dietary fiber is increased to recommended levels.

What Foods Are Good Sources of Fiber?

The best sources of fiber come from real foods rather than supplements. Good sources come from the following food groups, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Whole grain products
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans, peas, and other legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Refined or processed foods are typically much lower in fiber content. Skins of fruits and vegetables should not normally be removed because they contain much fiber.

What Are the Benefits of Dietary Fiber?

The Mayo Clinic lists several health benefits of a high fiber diet:

  • Helps normalize bowel movements by increasing the weight and size of the stool and softens it.
  • Helps maintain bowel health. A high-fiber diet may lower the risk of developing hemorrhoids, and small pouches in the colon (diverticular disease).
  • Lowers cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber (found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran) may help lower total cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol levels. Increased fiber in the diet can also reduce blood pressure and inflammation, which is protective of heart health.
  • Helps control blood sugar levels. Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can slow the absorption of sugar, which for people with diabetes can help improve blood sugar levels. A diet that includes insoluble fiber has been associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Aids in weight loss. High-fiber foods require more chewing time, which gives the body time to register when hunger is satisfied, so overeating is less likely. Also, high-fiber diets tend to make meals feel larger and linger longer in the digestive tract, so a person feels full for a longer period of time. High-fiber diets tend to be less "energy dense," too, which means they have fewer calories for a given volume of food.

Ways to Get More Dietary Fiber in Your Diet

The Mayo Clinic offers the following tips for getting more fiber in your diet.

  • Eat a high-fiber cereal for breakfast that has five or more grams of fiber per serving.
  • Susbstitute whole grains for refined grains in your diet.  Choose breads that have at least two grams of fiber per slice. Eat more brown rice, barley, wild rice, bulgur, and whole-whet pasta.
  • Add cut-up fresh or frozen vegetables to soups, stews and sauces.
  • Eat more beans, peas and lentils.
  • Eat fruit at every meal. Good sources of fiber include bananas, apples, oranges, pears and berries.
  • Have high-fiber foods for snacks, including fresh and dried fruits, fresh vegetables, low-fat popcorn, and whole-grain  crackers.

Get More Dietary Fiber to Improve Your Nutrition

Improve your nutrition and likely, your health, by meeting the recommended intake of dietary fiber every day. If your consumption of fiber is currently low like most people’s, you have a lot to gain from gradually increasing your consumption of fiber over a period of weeks. If you feel you need to take fiber supplements check with your doctor first. Nutrients and fiber from real food are much preferred to supplements, which can also be expensive.

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