Even with a large body of research that shows fiber contributes to a human health, research shows that Americans are still not consuming the recommended amounts of fiber each day [1-2]. Are you getting enough fiber? Read on to learn all about what fiber is, why you need it, and where to find it in food. This article will also provide helpful strategies so you can make fiber a focal point of your diet.
What is fiber?
Dietary fiber is the part of plants that cannot be digested and is often referred to as the “roughage” or “bulk.” Fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. It passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, and colon and out of your body. Dietary fiber naturally occurs in plants, helps provide a feeling of fullness, and is important in promoting digestive health.
Reading the nutrition facts panel will help you understand the fiber content in a food product. Dietary fiber is listed on every nutrition facts panel, so it’s easy to find foods rich in fiber. Foods with at least 10% of your Daily Value for fiber are considered a “good source,” while foods with 20% or more of your daily value are considered an “excellent source” of fiber.
What are the health benefits of fiber?
Consuming a diet rich in fiber can benefit health in many ways including providing digestive health benefits and weight management. Additionally, diets rich in fiber are associated with a reduced risk for developing certain diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes.
- Fiber plays an important role in maintaining digestive health. Fiber cannot be broken down in your digestive tract, so instead of being absorbed, like other nutrients, it pushes the contents of your gut along. Remember to add fiber slowly to your diet to minimize gastrointestinal discomfort. Consult with a Registered Dietitian or doctor before making any major changes to your fiber intake.
- Fiber can help with weight management. Foods high in fiber are processed more slowly by the body and tend to produce a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. High fiber foods require more chewing and may take longer to eat, giving your body time to recognize that it is full. Additionally, diets high in fiber can help support a healthier body weight.
- Fiber also plays a role in lowering cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Whole grain oats, oat bran, oatmeal, oat flour, barley and rye provide a particular form of soluble fiber known as beta glucan which has been shown to help lower cholesterol. Beta glucan from whole grain oats forms a gel in the digestive tract. This gel binds cholesterol in the small intestine and helps remove it from the body. Consuming foods rich in soluble fiber, like oats, may also help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
- Fiber acts like a clean up crew for your body. Diets rich in fiber are associated with a reduced risk of certain types of cancer such as colon cancer and breast cancer. Additionally, some research suggests that fiber may help reduce the risk of type II diabetes.
What are fiber-rich sources?
Fiber occurs naturally in a number of foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Beans and peas like navy beans, split peas, lentils, pinto beans, and black beans are also rich sources of fiber. Additionally, fiber is being added to many other packaged foods such as baked goods, granola bars, and cereals for added health benefits
How much fiber should I consume?
The RDI for fiber is 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed each day. To find out how many calories is recommended, visit Food Plans at MyPlate.Gov. Additionally, fiber intake can be calculated based on age and gender:
|Gender||Age 50 or younger||Age 51 or older|
|Men||38 grams||30 grams|
|Women||25 grams||21 grams|
|Chart adapted from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans|
What are some meal ideas that could incorporate fiber into my diet?
 USDA National Nutrient Database. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov
 U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov
 Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fiber/NU00033/METHOD=print