Are you getting enough fiber in your diet? The answer is “probably not” if you’re like most Americans. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (ADA), recommends a daily fiber intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. However, only 5% of Americans meet that recommendation and miss out on the many benefits of fiber.
Why is fiber important?
Fiber is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that your body cannot digest. Therefore it passes through your body without being absorbed. Even though fiber doesn’t provide significant calories or nutrients, it is very important for your intestinal function and overall health.
Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Many fiber-rich foods contain both types. Insoluble fiber is present in vegetables, beans, fruits with skin, and whole grains. Eating this type of fiber speeds up the movement of waste through your intestine, and helps you avoid constipation. It can also help prevent the formation of pouches in the lining of your colon, called diverticula, which can become painfully inflamed. Refined carbohydrates such as white flour and white rice are processed to remove the tough outer layer of the grain kernels so they lack the fiber benefit of their whole grain counterparts.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and gastrointestinal fluids to form thick gel-like substance. This substance blocks some fat and cholesterol from being absorbed in the blood stream. It also slows down the digestion rate of carbohydrates and other nutrients so that blood sugar levels remain relatively stable. For these reasons, eating enough soluble fiber helps lower your risk of heart disease. Both types of fiber help you feel full long after eating, which is an added benefit when you’re trying to manage your weight.
Choosing fiber-rich food
A healthful diet contains a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fibers are more common in foods such as beans, peas, oats, barley, berries, apples and citrus fruits. Good sources of insoluble fiber include beans, whole wheat or bran products, green beans, potatoes, cauliflowers, and nuts.
While many fiber supplements exist, most do not contain the additional vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B and iron, found in fiber-rich foods. Supplements may also not be, as easily or fully absorbed by the body. It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids when eating a high-fiber diet to help the fiber pass smoothly through your body and reap the healthy benefits.
To get the recommended daily quota of 25 to 38 grams of fiber, you should aim for 3 servings of whole grains (bread, cereal, pasta), 2 servings of fruit, and 3 servings of vegetables per day. However, for most people, reaching this goal all at once would be difficult. Here are some tips you can try to get more fiber in your daily diet:
- Include fruits, vegetables or both in every meal.
- Eat legumes such as beans, peas and lentils at least 3 times a week.
- Snack on nuts, seeds, and popcorn rather than refined carbs.
- Replace white rice with brown or wild rice, bulger, whole wheat pasta, or barley.
- Check food labels to find bread and cereals with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
Add Fiber Slowly
Upping your fiber intake too quickly may lead to cramping and bloating which could counteract the health benefits. You should increase your intake gradually to allow your digestive system time to adjust. For example, you can try adding one extra serving of a high-fiber food to your daily diet for a week and see how your body reacts. If everything is okay, add another daily serving for a week and continue increasing until you’ve reached your quota.
So, let’s recap
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet and has many benefits; however most people do not get the recommended amounts. It helps you avoid constipation, slows down the absorption of fat and carbohydrates into your blood stream, and helps lower your cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. An added bonus for people trying to lose weight is that fiber keeps you feeling full after a meal. Fiber-rich foods include legumes and vegetables, fruits with the skin on, and whole grains, nuts, and seeds. When upping your intake, it’s best to increase gradually to avoid uncomfortable symptoms such as gas and bloating.