Most people think of fiber in terms of its role in healthy bowel function. Fiber is an integral part of good digestion, and so much more! Many studies have demonstrated that fiber contributes to improved heart health and lower blood cholesterol. Fiber also helps reduce the risk of diabetes and aids in weight loss. Yet, the average adult only gets 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day—that’s only half the recommended daily value.
Fiber is either soluble (dissolves in water) or insoluble (does not dissolve in water); both forms are essential to a healthy diet. Soluble fibers can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Foods that are good sources of soluble fiber include beans, fruits and nuts.
Insoluble fiber helps move waste through the digestive system to help relieve constipation. Foods with high content of insoluble fiber include whole wheat flour, brown rice, seeds, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, celery, and tomatoes.
- Women should eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day from a variety of food sources.
- Men should aim for 30 to 38 grams a day.
- A reasonable minimum recommendation for kids over age 3 is the child’s age plus 5 grams.
It may be easier than you think to fit more fiber into your day:
- A cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber, and a medium sized apple, with the skin, has nearly 4.5 grams.
- An ounce of almonds (23 nuts) has 3.5 grams of fiber, and even air popped popcorn has 1 or more grams per cup. In general, try to avoid refined and processed foods that are low in fiber and high in calories.
- Eat whole grain cereals for breakfast. Some of the boxed cereals at the local grocery store have 3 to 7 grams of fiber per serving.
- Choose whole wheat bread over white. Pay attention to the labels when selecting bread. Look for a brand with at least 2 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
- When making salads, use spinach, adding 4 grams of fiber to the dish. • Switch to brown rice or whole wheat pasta, to add 7 to 15 grams of fiber.
- Eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juices and you will get 3 to 10 more grams of fiber. Some fruits high in fiber include dried figs (10 grams), blueberries and pears (4 grams).
- Add beans, lentils and peas as a side dish to any meal. One half cup of beans or peas packs in up to 10 grams of fiber.
- Experiment with different types of grains, such as spelt, millet, barley, and quinoa. These grains can add up to 6 grams of fiber.
- Try to eat fruit, raw vegetables or nuts for a snack. On average, vegetables have 2 to 4 grams of fiber per serving. Peanuts, cashews and walnuts are also good sources of fiber.
If you add fiber too quickly to your diet, it may upset your stomach, so ease into it. Increase your fiber intake over a period of a few weeks to allow the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change. Drink plenty of water to help with absorption.
Some people may benefit from fiber supplements if dietary changes are not sufficient, or if you have medical conditions such as constipation or irritable bowel syndrome. Consult with your doctor prior to making sudden changes to your diet.
Sources: National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, National Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, United States Department of Agriculture, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.