You know you're supposed to eat lots of fiber — but why? And can you get too much of a good thing?
We hear a lot about the health benefits of protein — but all too often, the pros of eating fiber go overlooked. Everyday Health reached out to 10 digestive health experts and asked them exactly how fiber boosts your digestive health (and whether it’s possible to eat too much).
Mark Babyatsky, MD, chair of the department of medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City
Dietary fiber, found particularly in vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, helps to keep bowel movements regular. Individuals who consume high-fiber diets have much lower rates of constipation than individuals that eat a low-fiber diet, plus they have fewer hemorrhoids and diverticula (outpouchings) in the colon. Too much fiber may result in loose stools, bloating, or even diarrhea.
Kenneth Brown, MD, gastroenterologist
Dietary fiber is the term used to describe the combination of both insoluble and soluble fibers. Soluble fiber is the form of fiber that dissolves in water. Examples of foods that contain soluble fiber include fruits, oats, legumes and barley. Insoluble fiber comes from plant cell walls and does not dissolve in water. Examples of foods that contain insoluble fiber include wheat, vegetables, and seeds. Fiber works by both bulking up the stool and retaining water.
In addition, bacteria help digest the fiber which produces healthy ingredients for the colon such as short chain fatty acids. Fiber can be beneficial for both diarrhea and constipation depending how much fluid is also taken in with the fiber. Fiber can actually become a constipating agent if the amount of fluid taken in is too low.
Lisa Ganjhu, DO, gastroenterologist
Fiber plays a major role in digestive health. Fiber is the fuel the colon cells use to keep them healthy. Fiber also helps to keep the digestive tract flowing, by keeping your bowel movements soft and regular.
It is possible to get too much fiber, and your body will know it. You may experience bloating and many more bowel movements than you are normally are used to.
Fibers are primarily non-digestible carbohydrates. Fibers are components of plant foods, fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds — any food that is classified as a plant. The fiber provides structure. Think of the celery stalk and the obvious vertical fiber strings that one often gets caught in their teeth. In addition, because fibers are non-digestible, they contribute to stool bulk and add form to the stool. People with irregularity are often advised to increase their fiber and fluid intake.
But can you get too much? Well yes, you can get too much of anything. But you will know when you do. When you eat too much fiber, your digestive system may be overwhelmed and you will suffer from abdominal bloating and pass excessive gas. You don’t want that, so keep an open mind and just eat as much fiber as you personally need to keep regular and enjoy a flat abdomen.
Another really important role of fiber is that some fibers are prebiotics — meaning they are fermented in the colon by the healthful beneficial bacteria. The products of this fermentation, which include short chained fatty acids, are thought to be healthful to the lining of the colon. In addition the acidic milieu that results from the fermentation is unfriendly to the survival of the pathogenic (harmful) bacteria which cause illness and may contribute to an unhealthy colonic environment. Expect more research findings on this subject.
Lisa Pichney, MD, gastroenterologist
Fiber is good for the gastrointestinal tract because it provides bulk to the stool, helping in colonic lubrication and transit. Too much fiber can result in unwanted gas production.
Seth Rosen, MD, gastroenterologist
A high-fiber diet can contribute greatly to gastrointestinal health as well as to a general healthy lifestyle. Fiber helps to regulate bowel movements so they are not too loose or too hard and may decrease the risk of diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Most high-fiber foods tend to be low in calories, sugar, and fat, so they are generally healthy. When eating high-fiber foods one may feel fuller and thereby less inclined to overeat.
Additionally, high-fiber diets are often part of a low-cholesterol, heart-healthy diet. While it is rare for most of us to exceed the recommended daily fiber intake, some people do have difficulty with gas and bloating when eating a large amount of fiber or introducing fiber too quickly into the diet. Also, keep in mind, eating fiber always requires adequate hydration and help to minimize the gas and bloating that may develop.
Sutha Sachar, MD, gastroenterologist
A diet high in fiber has repeatedly shown benefits in preventing colon cancer. Contrary to what many people think, soluble fiber can be used for treatment of diarrhea as well as constipation. The only drawback to eating "too much fiber" is that is can cause gas. This can usually be overcome by drinking plenty of water along with it.
This guide provides basic information to help you increase fiber in your diet. Fiber is an important dietary substance to your health. Most fiber-containing foods are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which offer many health benefits. A registered dietitian can provide in-depth nutrition education to help you develop a personal action plan.
What is fiber?
Fiber is the structural part of plant foods–such as fruits, vegetables, and grains–that our bodies cannot digest or break down. There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fiber: dissolves in water to form a gummy gel. It can slow down the passage of food from the stomach to the intestine. Examples include dried beans, oats, barley, bananas, potatoes, and soft parts of apples and pears.
- Insoluble fiber: often referred to as "roughage" because it does not dissolve in water. It holds onto water, which helps produce softer, bulkier stools to help regulate bowel movements. Examples include whole bran, whole grain products, nuts, corn, carrots, grapes, berries, and peels of apples and pears.
What other things does fiber do?
Research has shown that a diet rich in fiber is associated with many health benefits, including the following:
- Lowers cholesterol: Soluble fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol by binding to bile (composed of cholesterol) and taking it out of the body. This may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Better regulates blood sugar levels: A high-fiber meal slows down the digestion of food into the intestines, which may help to keep blood sugars from rising rapidly.
- Weight control: A high-fiber diet may help keep you fuller longer, which prevents overeating and hunger between meals.
- May prevent intestinal cancer: Insoluble fiber increases the bulk and speed of food moving through the intestinal tract, which reduces time for harmful substances to build up.
- Constipation: Constipation can often be relieved by increasing the fiber or roughage in your diet. Fiber works to help regulate bowel movements by pulling water into the colon to produce softer, bulkier stools. This action helps to promote better regularity.
How much fiber should I eat?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming about 25-35 grams of total fiber per day, with 10-15 grams from soluble fiber or 14g of fiber per 1,000 calories. This can be accomplished by choosing 6 ounces of grains (3 or more ounces from whole grains), 2½ cups of vegetables, and 2 cups of fruit per day (based on a 2,000 calorie/day pattern). However, as we age, fiber requirements decrease. For those over the age of 70, the recommendation for women is 21 grams and for men 30 grams of total fiber per day.
Note: Eating a high-fiber diet may interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of some medications. Speak to your doctor about which medications to take with caution and when to take them. Fiber also binds with certain nutrients and carries them out of the body. To avoid this, aim for the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day. When eating a high-fiber diet, be sure to drink at least eight glasses of fluid each day.
Tips for increasing dietary fiber in your diet:
- Add fiber to your diet slowly. Too much fiber all at once may cause cramping, bloating, and constipation.
- When adding fiber to your diet, be sure to drink adequate fluids (at least 64 ounces or 8 cups per day) to prevent constipation.
- Choose products that have a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, not enriched flour. Whole wheat flour is a whole grain–wheat flour is not.
- Choose whole grain bread with 2-4 grams of dietary fiber per slice.
- Choose cereals with at least 5 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
- Choose raw fruits and vegetables in place of juice, and eat the skins.
- Try alternative fiber choices such as whole buckwheat, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, bulgur, wheat germ, chia seeds, hemp seeds, lentil pasta, and edamame pasta.
- Popcorn is a whole grain. Serve it low-fat without butter for a healthier snack choice.
- Sprinkle bran in soups, cereals, baked products, spaghetti sauce, ground meat, and casseroles. Bran also mixes well with orange juice.
- Use dried peas, beans, and legumes in main dishes, salads, or side dishes such as rice or pasta.
- Add dried fruit to yogurt, cereal, rice, and muffins.
- Try brown rice and whole grain pastas.
Fiber supplements may be an option if you are not able to get enough fiber from your diet. Fiber supplements can be used to normalize both constipation and diarrhea. Check with your doctor before starting any kind of supplement. Read labels for fiber carefully.
Fiber might conjure up images of brown, dry cereals and dense, hard to chew breads, but that’s not fair to this essential dietary element. So, are you getting enough fiber, and do you know where to find it?
Strange but true – one of the most important things we can eat is also something our bodies can’t actually digest. Fiber is the part of plant foods – fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, grains – that passes through us, imparting lots of benefits along the way.
You may be familiar with two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. But in fact there are many sub-types of fiber too, including one – resistant starch – that’s getting more attention. Most plant foods contain different types of fiber bundled together in varying amounts. It’s important to get a wide variety of plant foods, so we get a good range of different types of fiber. (Giving up grains, for example – popular in some trendy diets – could have the unintended consequence of greatly reducing the types of fiber we consume.)
Here’s what fiber does for our health.
- It helps keep things moving
Fiber helps to keep food and waste products moving on through our digestive system. Soluble fiber acts like a sponge, absorbing liquid. This makes the contents of the bowel softer and easier to move through. Insoluble fiber helps to bulk up waste, too, and also helps push it through the system, like an internal brush. This – along with enough fluids in our diet – stops us getting constipated and feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
- It feeds our good bugs
Some types of fiber, such as oligosaccharides, help our population of gut bacteria – which affects many aspects of our health – by stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria. Having a healthy population of gut bacteria can affect our immunity, our risk of developing diseases, and even our psychological health.
- It lowers cholesterol
You may have seen health claims about cholesterol on foods such as cereals. That’s because there’s evidence to show that the soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower cholesterol levels, in particular by reducing the levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Healthy cholesterol levels are an important part of good heart health.
- It prevents disease
Fiber also helps in the prevention of other diseases. Because high-fiber foods have a lower glycemic index (GI), they slow the release of glucose into the blood, which can help prevent and control diabetes. There’s evidence to suggest high-fiber diets also help lower the risk of developing bowel cancer.
- It helps us feel fuller
Because foods high in fiber are low-GI, they’re absorbed more slowly. That means we feel fuller and more satisfied for longer. Think of the difference between eating a big plate of crunchy salad and a fast-food burger; the first takes a fair amount of time to eat and fills you up; the second can be eaten in a few bites and is likely to leave you hungry a short time later.
- It helps us lose weight
That feeling of satiety – feeling full – is one reason high fiber intake can help us lose and control weight. Fiber slows the digestion of foods, slowing gastric emptying – basically it takes longer for us to feel hungry again. Fiber also ferments in the gut during digestion, producing short-chain fatty acids, and researchers think these may delay a hunger response. There are many studies to show associations between higher fiber and wholegrain diets with lower body weight and the prevention of weight gain. Recent studies have focused on the gut bacteria and links between this and lower weight.
How to get enough fiber
Having a good, plant-based, balanced diet including a wide variety of foods – basically what’s recommended for every other aspect of our health – is a pretty good way to get a great amount and range of fiber into our diets. That means: plenty of vegetables and fruit; wholegrain versions of bread, pasta, cereal and rice; nuts and seeds; and legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils). Making these a big part of our everyday diet means we’re on our way to a healthy gut and a host of health benefits.
Niki Bezzant is a New Zealand-based food writer, editor and commentator. She is the founding editor (now editor-at-large) of Healthy Food Guide magazine, and is currently president of Food Writers New Zealand and a proud ambassador for the Garden to Table program which helps children learn how to grow, cook and share food. She is a member of the Council of Directors for the True Health Initiative, a global coalition of health professionals dedicated to sharing a science-based message of what we know for sure about lifestyle and health.
Illustration by Anieszka Banks.
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Government guidelines published in July 2015 say our dietary fibre intake should increase to 30g a day, as part of a healthy balanced diet. As most adults are only eating an average of about 18g day, we need to find ways of increasing our intake.
Children under the age of 16 don’t need as much fibre in their diet as older teenagers and adults, but they still need more than they get currently:
- 2 to 5 year-olds: need about 15g of fibre a day
- 5 to 11 year-olds: need about 20g
- 11 to 16 year-olds: need about 25g
On average, children and teenagers are only getting around 15g or less of fibre a day. Encouraging them to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and starchy foods (choosing wholegrain versions and potatoes with the skins on where possible) can help to ensure they are eating enough fibre.
Why do we need fibre in our diet?
There is strong evidence that eating plenty of fibre (commonly referred to as roughage) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
Choosing foods with fibre also makes us feel fuller, while a diet rich in fibre can help digestion and prevent constipation.
Tips to increase your fibre intake
It’s important to get fibre from a variety of sources, as eating too much of one type of food may not provide you with a healthy balanced diet.
To increase your fibre intake you could:
- Choose a higher-fibre breakfast cereal such as plain wholewheat biscuits (like Weetabix) or plain shredded whole grain (like Shredded wheat), or porridge as oats are also a good source of fibre. Find out more about healthy breakfast cereals.
- Go for wholemeal or granary breads, or higher fibre white bread, and choose wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
- Go for potatoes with their skins on, such as a baked potato or boiled new potatoes. Find out more about starchy foods and carbohydrates.
- Add pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries and salads.
- Include plenty of vegetables with meals, either as a side dish or added to sauces, stews or curries. Find out more about how to get your 5 A Day.
- Have some fresh or dried fruit, or fruit canned in natural juice for dessert. Because dried fruit is sticky, it can increase the risk of tooth decay, so it’s better if it is only eaten as part of a meal, rather than as a between-meal snack.
- For snacks, try fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes and unsalted nuts or seeds.
Fibre in your daily diet
Listed below is the fibre content of some example meals.
Fibre at breakfast
Two thick slices of wholemeal toasted bread (6.5g of fibre) topped with one sliced banana (1.4g) and a small glass of fruit smoothie drink (1.5g) will give you around 9.4g of fibre.
Fibre at lunch
A baked jacket potato with the skin on (2.6g) with a 200g portion of reduced-sugar and reduced-salt baked beans in tomato sauce (9.8g) followed by an apple (1.2g) will give you around 13.6g of fibre.
Fibre at dinner
Mixed vegetable tomato-based curry cooked with onion and spices (3.3g) with wholegrain rice (2.8g) followed by a lower-fat fruit yoghurt (0.4g) will give you around 6.5g of fibre. Bear in mind that fruit yoghurts can sometimes be high in added sugars, so check the label and try to choose lower-sugar versions.
Fibre as a snack
A small handful of nuts can have up to 3g of fibre. Make sure you choose unsalted nuts, such as plain almonds, without added sugars.
Total: Around 32.5g of fibre
Fibre on food labels
The above example is only an illustration, as the amount of fibre in any food can depend on how it is made or prepared and on how much of it you eat. Most pre-packaged foods have a nutrition label on the side or back of the packaging, which often gives you a guide about how much dietary fibre the food contains.
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Fiber is a big deal these days. Every time you turn around, someone is telling you to eat more of it. But why is fiber so important?
Fiber is celebrated for preventing or relieving constipation, and eating foods that are high in fiber can also help lower risk for diabetes, heart disease and even some kinds of cancer.
Found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, fiber also plays a role in maintaining a healthy weight. Getting enough fiber isn’t difficult as many tasty foods contain this important dietary necessity.
But how much fiber do you need? Read on to discover the health benefits of fiber, how to choose foods that are high in fiber and creative recipes to increase fiber in your diet.
Why is fiber so good for you?
Fiber has more health benefits than you’d expect. In addition to normalizing your bowel movements by increasing the weight and size of your stool, it also lowers your risk for colorectal cancer. Fiber also:
- Lowers the risk for developing hemorrhoids and colon pouches (diverticular disease).
- Lowers cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber is particularly helpful in lowering total blood cholesterol by reducing the “bad” cholesterol in your blood, your blood pressure and inflammation.
- Helps you reach your healthy weight. Fiber is more filling than other foods, which can make you feel full and satisfied. When you’re full, you eat less. Even better, high-fiber foods are denser and contain fewer calories than low-fiber foods.
- Controls blood sugar levels. Fiber can improve blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar. Insoluble fiber is particularly good for reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer. Eat more fiber and you may live longer! Those who eat a diet rich in fiber have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and all cancers.
Eating too much fiber causes some uncomfortable side effects like cramping and gas, so stick with the recommended daily intake 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.
Foods rich in dietary fiber
Fiber is either soluble or insoluble, which means it dissolves in water or doesn’t. Your body needs them both, so it’s a good idea to eat a diet full of both types of fiber.
Soluble fiber dissolves in liquid to form a gel that can play a role in lowering cholesterol and glucose levels. Foods that are rich in soluble fiber are items like carrots, peas, beans, oats, citrus and more.
Insoluble fiber remains intact (meaning your body doesn’t digest it) and helps your body move food through the digestive system. It can bulk up your stool, which is helpful for those who have constipation. Foods high in insoluble fiber include whole wheat flour, beans, nuts, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, and wheat bran.
Other high-fiber foods to include liberally in your diet include:
- Dried figs, prunes or dates
- Raw and dry-roasted nuts
What about supplements?
Most doctors and nutrition experts recommend getting your daily fiber from food, but in the case where diet isn’t enough, fiber supplements may be an option.
Supplements contain what’s called functional fiber, which is either taken from natural sources or created. Created fiber includes stuff like polydextrose, polyols and maltodextrins, while extracted fiber is taken from plant cells, fruits and berries and nuts.
Talk with your doctor about which fiber supplement is best for you. They come in many forms ranging from soluble powders, tablets, capsules and even snack bars.
When taking supplements, start with the minimum dose. If you take too much too fast, you can suffer from gas, cramping and bloating. All supplements should be taken with a full glass of water, and you should increase your water intake throughout the day.
Fiber supplements can interact with some medications and could decrease the rate in which drugs are absorbed. Some studies show that fiber supplements can interfere with drugs used to treat seizures, thyroid disorders, heart ailments, depression, diabetes and more. Most experts recommend taking your medication either an hour before or two hours after eating or taking fiber supplements.
Recipes to boost fiber in your diet
Most dietitians prefer getting your daily amount of fiber through the foods you eat. Choosing recipes that are delicious and high in fiber is easier than you think. Here are a few recipes to try.
While many people, particularly those cutting back on meat, are usually concerned about whether they're getting enough protein, the fact of the matter is, there's another macronutrient most people should be far more focused on: while most Americans (even those eating plant-based) are getting enough protein, fewer than five percent of Americans are getting the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day.
"Protein deficiency is almost unheard of in America," says Anna Mitchell, a Registered Dietitian and owner of Nutrition with Anna LLC. "Yet most Americans are focusing their energy on protein."
For Julie Miller Jones, PhD, LN, CNS, an emeritus professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, and a member of the Grain Foods Foundation's Scientific Advisory Board, this is particularly worrisome in some subsets of the population. Jones notes that fewer than one percent of males between 14 and 55 years old are actually meeting their recommended daily intake for fiber.
And this holds even more true for those on restrictive diets like keto or gluten-free, explains Jaclyn Sklaver, MS, CNS, LDN, CISSN-Sports Nutritionist, and founder of Athleats Nutrition. The lack of whole grains and adequate fruits and vegetables while doing these diets can make meeting recommended fiber intake an elusive goal — and pose serious health risks as a result.
Why Is Fiber So Important?
Fiber is known for keeping you full and regular, but it does so much more than that. Not only are the brain and gut linked, meaning that fiber intake contributes to improved mood and mental health, but fiber is also an important factor in the management of weight thanks to improved satiety. "In the obesity fight, foods high in fiber improve satiety, which may help in averting obesity and helping dieters stick to their diets," explains Jones.
Consuming enough fiber can even reduce risk and symptoms of diabetes, according to Irazema Garcia, Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) coach with First Mile Care, a Silicon Valley-based preventative chronic care company. "Fiber plays a role in glucose regulation, it can slow down the rate at which glucose is absorbed, aids in the detoxification process through regular bowel movements, and helps with satiety, which can lead to maintaining a healthy weight," says Garcia.
Studies have linked adequate fiber consumption with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes and colorectal cancer. Jones adds that fiber is "critical" to a healthy microbiome and can reduce the risk of "nearly all chronic diseases."
Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber: What’s the Difference, and Do You Need Both?
Within the category of fiber, there are two major sub-categories: soluble and insoluble. The former, as its name suggests, dissolves in water, taking on a gel-like consistency that, Garcia explains, helps to keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.
Insoluble fiber, meanwhile, does not dissolve in the body. Rather, it adds bulk to stool, helping to move food through the digestive tract and promote regular bowel movements. This, explains Dr. Eudene Harry, an integrative and preventative medicine practitioner and former ER physician, can prevent constipation and reduce risk of conditions such as diverticulitis.
Jones says, "Most basically, insoluble fibers help with digestive functioning and feelings of fullness, while soluble fibers, especially gummy ones, can also impart satiety and do things like trap glucose and cholesterol to slow or inhibit their digestion and absorption."
On average, about three-quarters of fiber should be insoluble fiber, and one-quarter should be soluble, according to Claudia Hleap, RD, LD. Though Garcia adds that it is important to listen to your body's individual needs, "Our bodies work differently, and no two people will respond quite the same way."
How to Add Fiber to Your Diet
In an ideal world, our experts are unanimous: fiber should be gleaned from food. Luckily, high-fiber foods and recipes are not at all hard to come by!
Soluble fibers are found in oats, barley, nuts, seeds, lentils, legumes, and fruits. Chia seeds are also a fantastic source of soluble fiber, as in this tasty chia seed pudding, and Garcia recommends getting familiar with flax meal, which can be sprinkled on salads and soups, blended into delicious smoothies, or baked into crisp crackers. Perennial favorite avocado is an excellent source as well, so enjoy it in delicious guacamole or spread on whole-grain toast.
Insoluble fiber, meanwhile, can be found in nuts, seeds, and skin-on fruits and veggies. Leave the skin on the apples in this apple-walnut salad, or toss together a farro salad with cherries, apples, and nuts for a fiber-rich lunch.
At the end of the day, says Garcia, "The best fiber-rich foods are the ones you will actually eat. There is no nutritional benefit to buying fiber-dense food that will sit on the counter and spoil. Be realistic in your purchases and buy foods that will be eaten."
Of course, there are some side effects of adding fiber to your diet. (Yep, we're gonna talk about gas.) The secret is to take things slow: ramp up your fiber intake progressively, so that you can adjust to the change bit by bit. "Eating too much fiber at once is overwhelming to your digestive system and good bacteria, so you may experience bloating and gas," explains Emily Danckers, MS, RD, founder of Emily RD Nutrition Coaching. "However, as your body adjusts to a higher fiber diet, your gut bacteria increase and diversify, which may alleviate these negative side effects of eating a lot of fiber."
Fiber Supplements: A Last Resort (for Most)
Our experts all recommend adding fiber from food sources whenever possible. According to Harry, adding fiber from foods isn't just a more balanced approach — it also makes it difficult to ingest too much, leading not just to digestive discomfort, but the possibility of hindering the body's absorption of minerals like zinc or iron.
But if you're unable to add enough fiber to your diet naturally, a supplement can be one way to help. "I recommend fiber supplements to anybody who has slow digestion such as constipation or IBS-C, anybody who is on a gluten-free, calorie restricted, or ketogenic diet because they have almost no fiber in their diets," says Sklaver. "I will also recommend it to people who have high cholesterol or [are] trying to manage their blood sugar such as diabetics or prediabetics."
Sklaver's brand of choice is NOW, which makes plant-based acacia fiber that has little flavor and dissolves well in water. Jones, meanwhile, recommends psyllium (Metamucil or Konsyl) for constipation or issues linked to cholesterol or glucose reduction; Benefiber, meanwhile, may be helpful with managing blood sugar. While Hleap says she "rarely" recommends supplements, when she does, she, too, relies on Metamucil or Benefiber.
Ultimately, though, Jones notes that while "high-fiber foods are cheaper, better tasting, and much more fun than supplements," if you choose to go the supplement route, "the most important thing is to find one that is well tolerated by your gut and your pocketbook."
Dietary fiber is part of a balanced and healthy diet. It is found naturally in plant foods. Dietary fiber’s benefits come from not being absorbed: dietary fiber passes through our bodies largely intact, and this is what makes it so helpful. However, many people do not get enough! How can we get more fiber in our diets?
What does dietary fiber do in the body?
Dietary fiber is good for our gut, good for our heart and good for our waistline 1 . Fiber holds water as it passes through the large intestine, leading to a soft stool that is easy to pass. Certain fibers, such as those from dried plums 2 , create an “intestinal hurry” that promotes regularity 3 . Higher fiber intakes are associated with a lower risk of constipation 4 .
There are two ways that dietary fiber can help the heart. First of all, dietary fiber in a meal slows the speed at which food leaves the stomach, which helps maintain normal blood glucose levels after eating 5; 6 . Secondly, one particular type of dietary fiber such as that found in oatmeal makes a thick gel in the intestines. Bile salts from digestion is trapped in the gel and it passes out of the body. Bile salts are made from cholesterol, so the body uses cholesterol from the blood to make more bile salts, thus reducing cholesterol levels 7 .
Dietary fiber helps us to feel fuller after eating a meal 8 . Dietary fiber is not absorbed directly so it increases bulk throughout the digestive tract. It slows the speed at which nutrients are absorbed, which means that feelings of hunger are subdued for longer after a meal 9 . These effects of fiber on satiety prevent hunger pangs and may have a modest effect on our weight 8 .
How Much Dietary Fiber Do We Need?
The amount of dietary fiber that is recommended varies per country, however most recommend that adults consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day 10 . Children generally eat less than adults, and the recommendations for children are therefore lower.
Who Needs More Dietary Fiber?
Despite its many health benefits, many people around the world do not get enough fiber every day, leading to a global “fiber gap” 10 . Overall, intakes of dietary fiber are less than half of recommendations 10 . In diverse countries such as China, Iran, the U.S. and many countries in Europe, and in different age groups, studies show that intakes are routinely lower than recommendations 11; 12; 13; 14; 15 . In the U.S., less than 5 percent of the population has intakes of fiber greater than their age- and gender-based recommendations 16 . A study in Australia found that adolescents and young adults, girls, men and people of lower socio-economic status were at greatest risk of low fiber intakes 17 . While women and older adults tended to have better fiber intakes, many people in these groups also fell short of intake recommendations 17 .
Good Dietary Fiber Sources
The best sources of dietary fiber are from plants because fiber is actually part of the structure of plant cells. Cereals (especially whole grain), legumes, seeds, mushrooms, fruit and vegetables all contain fiber in varying amounts.
Surprising sources of dietary fiber 18 :
- Roasted pumpkin seeds (18 g fiber / 100g)
- Roasted pumpkin seeds (18 g fiber / 100g)
- Black beans (16 g fiber / 100 g)
- Popcorn (15 g fiber / 100 g)
- Almonds (13 g fiber / 100g)
- Dried apple (9 g fiber / 100g)
- Whole grain pasta (11 g fiber / 100g)
- Dark chocolate (11 g fiber / 100g)
- Peanut butter (8 g fiber / 100g)
- Baked potatoes with skin (8 g fiber / 100g)
- White bread (2.4 g fiber / 100g)
How Can We Close the Fiber Gap?
Closing the fiber gap requires us to change what we eat. Low dietary fiber intakes come from low intakes of fiber-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, nuts, pulses, mushrooms and whole grains. For example, in the U.S., if consumers choose whole grains instead of refined grains, dietary fiber intakes will increase substantially 19 . Many food producers now make foods containing a higher dietary fiber content. For example, food manufacturers can increase the dietary fiber content of food such as yogurt, breakfast cereals and crackers to help consumers meet the gap 20; 21 . This can be done either by choosing a whole grain as a basis for grain products such as spaghetti and bread, or by adding fiber to products that do not normally contain fiber such as fruit juices and yoghurt. Increasing nutrition knowledge can also impact food choices, such as increasing fruit and vegetable consumption 22 .
Dietary fiber is so important in our diets, yet most people do not eat enough. We need to choose more fiber-rich foods to help us close the dietary fiber gap.
Eating a healthy diet can make you feel good and help fight against chronic diseases and conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. A healthy diet can also give your immune system a boost. Eating healthy can be a challenge if you don’t know exactly what that means. In general, it is important to eat a wide variety of foods. Fruits, vegetables, dairy (or non-dairy alternatives), protein and whole grains are all important pieces of a healthy diet. Another part of eating healthy is making sure that you are getting the necessary vitamins, nutrients and minerals. One essential nutrient that might be missing from your diet is fiber.
Why Do I Need Fiber?
There are many benefits of eating a high-fiber diet. Digestive disorders, heart disease and diabetes are a few chronic health conditions that can benefit from eating a healthy, high fiber diet.
Bowel Health – Dietary fiber helps normalize bowel movements and promote bowel health. Dietary fiber helps your body create stools that are easier to pass and avoid constipation. If you have loose stool (diarrhea), high dietary fiber may help solidify it because the fiber absorbs excess water. Fiber can also help avoid the development of hemorrhoids (swollen, inflamed veins in the rectum and anus) and small pockets forming in your bowel tract (diverticular disease).
Heart Disease – Multiple studies have shown that eating a high-fiber diet can lower your risk of developing coronary heart disease. High-fiber diets are also linked to a lower risk for developing metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Factors related to metabolic syndrome include high insulin levels, high blood pressure, excess weight and low levels of good cholesterol.
Type 2 Diabetes – Diets high in dietary fiber and low in foods that spike blood sugar levels (high-glycemic index foods) have been known to decrease the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Diets low in fiber and high in foods with a high glycemic index double your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Soluble fiber has been known to help your body slow down the spike in blood sugar levels that can be dangerous for people who have diabetes or are at risk of developing it.
What is Fiber? And Where Do I Get It?
Dietary fiber is a plant-based nutrient that cannot be fully digested in the human body. When adding fiber to your diet, think whole-grain foods and vegetables. Although many foods may be naturally good sources of fiber, others may be fortified with fiber and other important minerals and nutrients. This means that fiber and these essential nutrients are added to foods, such as cereal and granola bars. These are also good options when choosing staples for your high-fiber diet.
Soluble vs Insoluble Fibers
There are two types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble fibers. You may consider eating more of one type of fiber based on your body’s needs. Both have their own benefits, so you should eat a wide variety of foods to make sure you get enough of each kind of fiber.
Fiber is the magic nutrient in your diet that does more to keep you healthy than you think. The most surprising part is that you can’t really digest it!
Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate that is found primarily in plant foods. Unlike other carbs (which usually have 4 calories per gram), fiber doesn’t provide any calories as it moves through your body. 1 But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for you.
Most people should eat 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories daily. 1,2 This means if you eat a 2,000 calorie diet you should be getting at least 28 grams of fiber. Most Americans are not even meeting half of that. 2
How to eat more fiber
Fiber comes from plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds and whole grains. The amount of fiber in each food depends on how it’s eaten. Cooking, blending, mashing and removing peels can reduce the amount of fiber. This doesn’t mean that you have to only eat raw foods that have peels, but keep this in mind as you pick your snacks and meals.
There are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Each type is helpful to your body in its own way, so having a mix of both is best.
Soluble fiber turns into a gel when it mixes with water in your digestive tract. 2,3 You can find it in fruits like berries and apples, beans, oatmeal and barley.
Insoluble fiber is what most people think of as “roughage.” Instead of becoming a gel, it attracts water and keeps your digestive system moving. 2,3 This type of fiber is found in vegetables (especially the peels), nuts and whole grains.
Getting enough fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent constipation and control your blood sugars and cholesterol. If you’re adding more fiber to your diet, try to do it slowly and add more fluids at the same time to prevent feeling bloated.
Fiber helps slow down digestion, this also slows the breakdown of other carbohydrates and causes blood sugars to go up and down smoothly. 2,3 Soluble fiber also soaks up excess cholesterol in the digestive system and moves it out of the body.
Keeping things moving
If you’re trying to lose weight, fiber can help you reach your goals. Fiber does not add calories but still helps keep you full for longer. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your meal that makes you feel satisfied. Soluble fiber forms a gel that helps food move slowly through your body after you eat. 2,3
When you have constipation or diarrhea, both types of fiber are helpful. 3 Fiber adds substance to your stool, making it easier to move if you’re constipated. If diarrhea is the problem, fiber can make bowel movements solid by absorbing excess water.
Dietary fiber is so important and most of us are not eating enough of it. Build your diet around unprocessed whole foods and lots of plants to help prevent some chronic diseases and improve your well-being!
- Nancy D. Turner, Joanne R. Lupton, Dietary Fiber, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 2, Issue 2, 01 March 2011, Pages 151–152, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.110.000281
- James W Anderson, Pat Baird, Richard H Davis, Jr, Stefanie Ferreri, Mary Knudtson, Ashraf Koraym, Valerie Waters, Christine L Williams, Health benefits of dietary fiber, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 67, Issue 4, 1 April 2009, Pages 188–205, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x
- “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Jan. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.
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Fiber is an essential nutrient. However, many Americans fall short of the recommended daily amount in their diets. Women should aim for about 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should target about 38 grams, or 14 grams for every 1,000 calories.
Dietary fiber contributes to health and wellness in a number of ways. First, it aids in providing fullness after meals, which helps promote a healthy weight. Second, adequate fiber intake can help to lower cholesterol. Third, it helps prevent constipation and diverticulosis. And fourth, adequate fiber from food helps keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range.
Natural Sources of Fiber
Fiber is found in plant foods. Eating the skin or peel of fruits and vegetables provides a greater dose of fiber, which is found naturally in these sources. Fiber also is found in beans and lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Typically, the more refined or processed a food is, the lower its fiber content. For example, one medium apple with the peel contains 4.4 grams of fiber, while ½ cup of applesauce contains 1.4 grams, and 4 ounces of apple juice contains no fiber.
By including certain foods, you can increase your fiber intake in no time. For breakfast, choose steel cut oats with nuts and berries instead of a low-fiber, refined cereal. At lunch, have a sandwich or wrap on a whole-grain tortilla or whole-grain bread and add veggies, such as lettuce and tomato, or serve with veggie soup. For a snack, have fresh veggies or whole-grain crackers with hummus. With dinner, try brown rice or whole-grain noodles instead of white rice or pasta made with white flour.
Here are a few foods that are naturally high in fiber:
- 1 large pear with skin (7 grams)
- 1 cup fresh raspberries (8 grams)
- ½ medium avocado (5 grams)
- 1 ounce almonds (3.5 grams)
- ½ cup cooked black beans (7.5 grams)
- 3 cups air-popped popcorn (3.6 grams)
- 1 cup cooked pearled barley (6 grams)
When increasing fiber, be sure to do it gradually and with plenty of fluids. As dietary fiber travels through the digestive tract, is similar to a new sponge; it needs water to plump up and pass smoothly. If you consume more than your usual intake of fiber but not enough fluid, you may experience nausea or constipation.
Before you reach for the fiber supplements, consider this: fiber is found naturally in nutritious foods. Studies have found the same benefits, such as a feeling of fullness, may not result from fiber supplements or from fiber-enriched foods. If you’re missing out on your daily amount of fiber, you may be trailing in other essential nutrients as well. Your fiber intake is a good gauge for overall diet quality. Try to reach your fiber goal with unrefined foods so you get all the other benefits they provide as well.
Holly Larson, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and nutrition copywriter. She is the owner of Holly Larson and Co, a freelance writing agency based in Oxford, Ohio.
Getting your fill of fiber can seem tough, especially if you’re not in the mood for vegetables.
You may be surprised on what foods have high amounts of fiber. And why do we care about having enough fiber in our diets? Keep reading for more about why fiber is important and some high-fiber foods you can include in your everyday lifestyle.
Getting enough dietary fiber is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Dietary fiber, also called roughage, includes plants, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grain parts that your body can’t fully digest. Dietary fiber passes through your digestive tract largely undigested, until it reaches the colon or large intestine where some fibers are fermented by microbiota. 1
A high-fiber diet can normalize bowel movements, soften stool and help maintain bowel health. High-fiber foods can also help you feel full as they tend to be more filling than lower-fiber foods. 1
There are two different types of fiber foods: soluble and insoluble. Soluble dietary fiber is a type that dissolves in water and absorbs water during digestion to form a gel-like substance. Soluble fiber is found in foods like oats, peas, beans, fruits, and barley. Insoluble dietary fiber is the second type that doesn’t dissolve in water and stays unchanged during digestion. Insoluble fiber helps promote movement through your digestive system and can be found in foods like whole-wheat flour, nuts, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes. 1
Incorporate high-fiber foods into your daily life in your regular meals as well as into snacks or smoothies. If you’re trying to increase the fiber in your diet, it’s also important to start slow and increase your dietary fiber intake over time instead of all at once.
Some high fiber foods you can add to your diet include:
Lentils and other beans are an easy way to sneak fiber into your diet in soups, stews and salads. Some beans, like edamame (which is a steamed soy bean), are even a great fiber-filled snack. 2 There are 9 grams of fiber in a half-cup serving of shelled edamame. 2 A bonus? All of these provide a source of plant protein, too. 3 Some bakers have even started including beans or bean flours in their baked goods, which research proves can still make quality cakes. 4
This veggie can get pigeonholed as the fiber vegetable. Its cruciferous nature—meaning it’s from the Brassica genus of plants along with cauliflower, cabbage and kale—makes it rich in many nutrients in addition to fiber. 5 Studies have shown that broccoli’s five grams of fiber per cup can positively support the bacteria in the gut, which may help your gut stay healthy and balanced. 6, 7
Berries get a lot of attention for their antioxidants, but they’re full of fiber, too. Just a cup of fresh blueberries can give you almost four grams of fiber, and there is nearly the same amount of fiber in a cup of frozen unsweetened blueberries. 8 Blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are also great sources of fiber. 9 Of course, one of the biggest benefits of berries is that they’re naturally low in calories, too. 10
Avocados pretty much go with everything—toast, salads, entrees, eggs—and while they’re often recognized for their hefty dose of healthy fats, there are 10 grams of fiber in one cup of avocado (so just imagine how much is in your guacamole). 11
There’s one gram of fiber in one cup of popcorn, and the snack (when natural and not covered in butter, like at the movies) is a whole grain that can satiate cravings with a hit of fiber. 12 It’s even been called the King of Snack Foods. 13
6. Whole Grains
Good news for bread lovers: Real whole grains, found in 100% whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and oats, have fiber. 14, 15, 16 One tip to watch out for: as required by The Food and Drug Administration, whole grains should be the first ingredient on a food package in order for it to be considered a real whole grain. 14, 15
That old saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” isn’t necessarily true, according to research, but the fruit can boost your fiber intake. 17 There are about four grams of fiber in an apple, depending on its size. And, of course, they’re a nice and crunchy snack.
8. Dried Fruits
Dried fruits like figs, prunes and dates can boost your fiber intake dramatically and are recommended for those struggling with constipation. 18 The sugar called sorbitol, which naturally occurs in these fruits, can help your bowels and lead to more comfort. 18 However, eating too many can lead to cramping or diarrhea, so try a small serving and see how you feel once you’ve digested them, before noshing on too many more. 18
Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, purple potatoes and even the plain old white potato are all good sources of fiber; one small potato with skin can provide close to three grams of fiber. 19 The veggie has a bad reputation for running in the wrong crowds—fries and chips, to name a few. However, when not fried in oil and slathered in salt, potatoes can provide many benefits. 20
Nuts aren’t just a great source of protein and healthy fats—sunflower seeds and almonds each have more than three grams of fiber in a serving. They can help you reach the 25-gram intake of fiber recommended by the FDA for women and 38-gram recommendation for men. 21, 22 * Raw or dry-roasted nuts are preferred over the pre-packaged variety (which are usually cooked in oils that can add extra, unnecessary calories.) 23 Even nut butters can pack a punch of fiber. 24
*According to the Institute of Medicine, it is recommended that, in adults 50 or younger, women should consume 25 grams of fiber daily and men 38 grams. In adults 51 or older, women should consume 21 grams of fiber daily and men 30 grams.
Read about fibre in the diet, the foods that provide fibre and how they can affect our health.
- Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot break down and so it passes through our gut into our large intestine (or colon). It is found naturally in plant foods like wholegrains, beans, nuts, fruit and vegetables and is sometimes added to foods or drinks.
- Fibre helps to keep our digestive system healthy and helps to prevent constipation.
- A high fibre diet may help to reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and colorectal (bowel) cancer.
- There are many different kinds of fibre, and they have different effects on our body. Some types influence how quickly food moves through our gut, adding bulk to stools and ‘keeping you regular’, some can impact our blood cholesterol and how quickly we absorb sugar from foods and drinks, and some can influence the types and amounts of bacteria in our gut.
- Research shows that the bacteria and other micro-organisms in our gut may be important for health, although there is still a lot we do not know. Fibre found in foods like wheat, oats, beans, pulses, fruit and vegetables such as garlic and onions provide ‘food’ for ‘good’ gut bacteria, allowing them to grow in number and produce substances that are thought to have beneficial effects on health.
- It is recommended that adults get 30g of fibre a day, but, on average, we eat much less than this – about 20g a day. Many children over the age of 2 years also need to increase the amount of fibre in their diet, although their recommended intakes are lower than for adults.
- To get enough fibre in our diets it is important to include a variety of fibre-providing foods regularly, such as wholemeal bread, wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown pasta or rice, fruit, vegetables, peas, beans, nuts, seeds and potatoes with skins.
- If you need to increase your fibre intake, it is a good idea to do it gradually to avoid gut issues like bloating and gas. For gut health, it is also important to drink plenty of fluids (around 6-8 glasses per day for adults) and to be physically active.
The fun way to fibre
Easy changes you can make to your diet to increase your fibre intake.
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Fiber isn’t exactly the sexiest topic (let’s be honest, when you hear “fiber” it is near impossible not to think of poop). But lack of sexiness aside, packing plenty of fiber into your meals is an extremely important part of healthy eating.
“It is essential for good digestion and keeps your gut microflora healthy and happy,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. Fiber also helps reduce your risk of chronic diseases—including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes—and keeps your cholesterol in check, adds Jennifer Martin-Biggers, PhD, MS, RDN, the VP of scientific affairs and education at Hum Nutrition.
And indeed, the shorter-term symptoms of a low fiber diet can be unpleasant to say the least. “There is, of course, the fact that when you don’t eat enough fiber, you can go for days without pooping—and that just doesn’t feel good!” says Largeman-Roth. We’re supposed to get 25-35 grams of total fiber daily, but according to Largeman-Roth, most Americans are falling very short of that recommendation, meaning the low fiber diet signs listed ahead are incredibly common.
“Not consuming enough fiber is a loss also because foods high in fiber tend to be high in a variety of healthy micronutrients and phytonutrients, too” says Dr. Martin-Biggers. Two big misconceptions are that high fiber foods don’t taste good and that high fiber food needs to look and feel “fibrous,” both of which are far from the truth, Largeman-Roth says. “For example, avocados are loaded with fiber! One cup contains 10 grams.” Fiber is also found in fresh fruits like strawberries and pears, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Here, four low fiber diet signs, or ways your body is telling you it wants more of the delicious aforementioned food groups.
Low fiber diet signs and signals that your body could benefit from eating more fiber-rich foods
1. Pooping is an extreme (and infrequent) sport.
“You probably already know that you can get constipated without fiber, but in addition, it may be difficult to poop once you do go. Getting enough fiber—as well as water—helps you go more easily without struggling,” Largeman-Roth says.
To get specific, insoluble fiber is responsible for adding bulk to your stool, which helps supply your digestive system with something substantial to pass. Soluble fiber helps more water remain in your stool, which makes your number-twos softer, more sizable, and therefore, less painful to pass through your intestines. Consuming more of both of these forms of fiber in your diet will help ensure smoother (and more frequent) bathroom visits.
2. You’re hungry all. the. damn. time.
Time to check if you’ve been skimping on the fibrous foods. “Fiber helps us feel fuller longer,” Largeman-Roth says. This is because fiber doesn’t get broken down and used by our bodies, so it takes longer for it to go through our digestive system. This slower process also means that your intestinal walls have more time to absorb the vitamins and nutrients from your meal.
3. You have no more pep in your step.
Your morning coffee is far from being the only food group that can provide you with plenty of energy. “Feeling low in energy or sluggish can actually be a sign you aren’t eating enough fiber,” says Dr. Martin-Biggers. “It helps slow the release of nutrients during digestion, which also makes for a slower release of sugar molecules from the carbohydrates we eat.” This is because fiber helps your body break down and absorb carbohydrates more gradually, which helps keep blood sugar levels stable—and avoid spikes and crashes.
4. You have heightened cholesterol or blood pressure.
“Not eating enough fiber-filled foods means you are missing out on the cholesterol-lowering benefits of fiber,” says Largeman-Roth. “This may cause your total cholesterol level to be heightened.” Fiber has been shown to decrease triglycerides—which lowers your risk of heart disease—and up your HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) levels, which is why dietary fiber is linked to lower levels of cholesterol in the blood and lower blood pressure.
There are many factors that can contribute to higher cholesterol and blood pressure, of course, but a low fiber intake is among them. This is compounded by the fact that fiber-rich foods are packed with many other heart- and overall health-boosting benefits. Talk about a win-win.
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Fiber gets well-deserved credit for keeping the digestive system in good working order — but it does plenty more. In fact, it’s a major player in so many of your body’s systems that getting enough can actually help keep you youthful. Older people who ate fiber-rich diets were 80 percent more likely to live longer and stay healthier than those who didn’t, according to a recent study in the Journals of Gerontology.
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The trouble is, few Americans consume the amount they should. For people age 51 and older, government guidelines recommend at least 28 grams per day for men and 22 grams for women. But adults in this age group actually average just about 16 grams per day.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in plant foods: beans, fruit, grains, nuts and vegetables. Technically, it isn’t a nutrient because it isn’t broken down and absorbed. But that’s what makes it so beneficial.
There are several types of fiber, but they all fall into two broad categories: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber is soft and dissolves in water, forming a gellike substance. It bulks up your stool, making it easier to pass. Sources include beans, oats, sweet potatoes and the flesh of some fruit.
Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, vegetables and fruit skin. “This kind of fiber promotes contractions of the digestive tract that move food and waste through the body,” says Lindsay Malone, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.
Many plant foods contain both, so by eating a variety, you’ll cover all your bases.
How can this simple substance have such a powerful effect on health and longevity? It turns out there are many ways that fiber works its magic.
●Cutting cholesterol. Soluble fiber binds to bile acids, substances produced by the liver that aid in digestion and fat absorption, and it helps your body excrete them. “The body then needs to produce more bile acids, and it pulls cholesterol from the blood to do it,” says JoAnn E. Manson, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
●Protecting against diabetes. A study published in 2009 in Diabetes Care found that people who got less than 20 grams of fiber per day had about a 50 percent greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those who got 31 grams or more per day. “Eating a food that’s high in fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates into your bloodstream,” Manson says, “so blood sugar levels rise more slowly and the pancreas has more time to react and produce insulin.”
●Controlling weight. Fiber adds bulk, so you feel full faster and stay full longer. And many high-fiber foods are low in calories.
●Lowering colorectal cancer risk. A recent report by the World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research found that eating 90 grams of fiber-rich whole grains daily could lower colorectal cancer risk by 17 percent.
●Reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to many diseases, such as arthritis, certain cancers and even Alzheimer’s. “Many studies have shown that increased insoluble fiber intake leads to reduced inflammation,” says Qi Sun, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
●Protecting joints. If fiber can reduce inflammation, it stands to reason that it may help reduce the risk of arthritis. And a recent study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, offers some proof. Researchers evaluated two groups. In one, those whose daily fiber intake averaged 20 grams had a 30 percent lower risk of knee osteoarthritis than people who ate about eight grams. In the other, those who averaged about 25 grams of fiber per day had a 61 percent lower risk compared with those who consumed about 14 grams.
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.
Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact checker, and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content.
- Only about 7% of U.S. adults meet the recommended intake of fiber, new research suggests.
- Fiber is important not just for digestive health, but also for lowering cardiovascular risks.
- When transitioning to more dietary fiber, it’s important to integrate foods gradually to prevent digestive upset.
On average, only 7.4% of U.S. adults meet the recommended daily intake of fiber, according to a study presented at the Nutrition 2021 Live online conference.
Researchers looked at data from more than 14,600 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2013 to 2018.
The Institute of Medicine established 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories an “adequate intake,” which means that reaching that goal would involve eating about 25 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet. Women in the study consumed about 9.9 grams per 1,000 calories and men consumed 8.7 grams.
High-fiber foods considered in the research included:
- Whole grains
- Vegetables and fruits
Although fiber supplements were not included in the survey, their consumption likely would not have made much of a difference, according to lead researcher Derek Miketinas, PhD, RD, assistant professor of nutrition and food sciences at Texas Woman’s University.
“What tends to provide the most benefits is choosing fiber-rich foods,” he says. “That’s what is strongly associated with significant health benefits.”
More Fiber, Better Health
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. They work in different ways, but both are considered beneficial for health.
Soluble fiber creates a gel as it dissolves, which helps to slow the absorption of sugar, improving blood glucose regulation. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in the same way, but does draw water into your stool so it’s easier to route through your digestive system.
Derek Miketinas, PhD, RD
What tends to provide the most benefits is choosing fiber-rich foods, that’s what is strongly associated with significant health benefits.
Previous research shows connections between adequate fiber intake of both types and lowering health risks in notable ways, Miketinas adds, such as:
- Improved diabetes control
- Lower kidney disease risk
- Better gastrointestinal function
- Improved gut health
- Aids in weight maintenance
One of the most studied associations is between fiber consumption and heart health. For example, research published in JAMA in 1996 found that participants with a high total dietary fiber intake had a 40% lower risk of coronary heart disease.
That’s likely because higher fiber intake reduces the chances of developing metabolic syndrome, according to a 2002 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. That condition involves a number of factors such as:
- High blood pressure
- Excess weight, particularly in the abdominal area
- High insulin levels
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol
Given the breadth of advantages for increased fiber consumption, it makes sense to add much more to your diet, especially if you’re lacking. However, too much added too quickly can be problematic in the short term, says dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman, RD, who focuses on the dietary management of digestive and metabolic diseases.
“With fiber, even if you’re eating all healthy options, it can be a shock to your system if you ramp up too fast,” she says. That can lead to gas, discomfort, bloating, constipation, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. Although your body will adjust with enough time, this can be very unpleasant as you get used to increased fiber.
Tamara Duker Freuman, RD
With fiber, even if you’re eating all healthy options, it can be a shock to your system if you ramp up too fast.
Another key strategy is to drink more water since insoluble fiber attracts water to your digestive system, so you’ll need more hydration to stay in balance.
Freuman adds that it’s important to be aware of all possible sources of fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are easy to identify, but you may also be getting fiber from products made with nut flour, beverages like smoothies, bean pastas, and plant-based pizza crusts made from cauliflower or other vegetables.
This may be especially true if you’re following a gluten-free diet and eating products that rely on alternative flours.
While it’s helpful to incorporate these into your diet as a way to get more fiber, they can also put you on the fast track to digestive discomfort.
“There’s only so much fiber you can have in one sitting,” says Freuman. “For example, having a quarter cup of chickpeas on your salad is a great choice, but if you’re also having pasta made from chickpea flour, that could be three cups of beans in one meal. That’s a considerable amount if you’re not used to that.”
That said, making the effort to incorporate these foods into your meals and snacks can get you closer to that larger goal of meeting the recommended daily fiber intake.
We know, we know: Fiber isn't exactly the sexiest topic. But getting the right amount of the gut-friendly roughage in your diet has a ton of health benefits, from improved gastrointestinal (or GI) function to weight loss. Before you dive headfirst into a high-fiber diet, though, it's important to understand what fiber actually is, and how to add it to your plate for optimal results.
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"The definition of dietary fiber quite literally is the indigestible component of a plant food," Leah Silberman, RDN, dietitian and founder of the New York City private practice Tovita Nutrition, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Unlike other nutrients such as protein or fat, fiber — which is found in carbohydrates — does not get absorbed by the body. Below, we'll explain why that's actually a good thing, both for losing weight and keeping your system in tip-top shape.
Did you know that keeping a food diary is one of the most effective ways to manage your weight? Download the MyPlate app to easily track calories, stay focused and achieve your goals!
Fill Up on Fiber to Drop Pounds
Fibrous foods in general aid in weight management because they are nutrient-rich and low in calories (think: fruits and vegetables).
In fact, a study published February 2015 in Annals of Internal Medicine found that simply aiming to eat 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lose weight as effectively as a more complicated diet.
You've probably heard that there are two types: soluble and insoluble. Foods like Brussels sprouts, flax seeds, oranges, beans and oats have a higher proportion of soluble fiber, while leafy greens like kale, wheat bran, fruit skins and nuts tend to have more insoluble fiber.
"Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gelatinous-type substance," explains Silberman. Think of chia seeds that expand in water. The same thing happens to this type of fiber in your stomach. As a result, it keeps you feeling full for longer, which can potentially decrease how much you eat.
Insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve in water; instead, it remains intact and adds bulk in the GI tract, speeding up transit time through the body and in turn promoting regularity. Which is important, for sure, but doesn't necessarily help you lose weight.
Indeed, a small study published March 2017 in Nutrition and Healthy Aging found that hunger suppression was greater when postmenopausal women consumed meals with a 3:1 soluble to insoluble fiber ratio compared to a 1:3 ratio.
Don't get bogged down trying to choose the "better" type of dietary fiber, though: Our bodies need both the insoluble and soluble varieties. Instead, focus on eating a variety of plant-based foods, which naturally contain a mix of both.
Eat More Fiber for 4 Big Health Benefits
Dietary fiber delivers advantages beyond just weight loss.
Gut health: "When fiber travels down to the large intestine, it can actually act as a food source, or a prebiotic, for the 'good' bacteria that inhabit that part of our GI tract," says Silberman. "This is beneficial for gut health, immune health and overall digestive health." After all, just like us, our "good bacteria" need to eat in order to thrive.
Bowel health: Not only does dietary fiber bulk up your stool, which decreases your chances of constipation, but a high-fiber diet may also decrease your risk of developing colon cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Metabolic health: Fiber is also critical for metabolic health. The indigestible carb helps regulate how quickly digested materials (like sugar) diffuse through the digestive tract, which can help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet rich in insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, per the Mayo Clinic.
Heart health: What's more, fiber has been linked to a number of heart-healthy benefits. A large December 2013 review published in the British Medical Journal, for example, found that total dietary fiber intake was inversely associated with the risk of both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease across 22 cohort studies.
In particular, fiber supports heart health by binding with "bad" LDL cholesterol and carrying it out of the body before it enters the bloodstream, according to Harvard Health Publishing. As a refresher: Elevated LDL cholesterol levels are linked to increased risk of conditions like atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dietary fiber includes the parts of plant foods that body can’t digest or absorb. Instead, it passes relatively intact through stomach, small intestine and colon and out of the body.
Fiber is commonly classified as soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber. This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
Insoluble fiber. This type of fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It promotes the movement of material through digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools.
Benefits of a high-fiber diet
A high-fiber diet has many benefits, which include:
Normalizes bowel movements. As fiber passes through the stomach and intestines, it absorbs water, adding bulk to the stool and softening it. This promotes regularity and reduces constipation.
Helps maintain bowel health. A high-fiber diet may lower the risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in colon (diverticular disease).
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Fiber may provide some relief from IBS
Lowers cholesterol levels. Fiber traps cholesterol and drags it out of the body through the digestive system. Soluble fiber, found in oat bran, barley, oranges, apples, carrots, and dried beans, turns into a gel during the digestive process and prevents cholesterol, fat, and sugars from being absorbed by the body
Helps control blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, fiber — particularly soluble fiber — can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Aids in achieving healthy weight. High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods, so you’re likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer. And high-fiber foods tend to take longer to eat and to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
Heart health: There is an inverse association between fiber intake and heart attack, and research shows that those eating a high-fiber diet have a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease. The reason behind it might be that high-fiber foods help in reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
Stroke: Researchers have found that for every seven-grams more fiber you consume on a daily basis, your stroke risk is decreased by 7 percent.
- Skin health: Fiber, particularly psyllium husk, may help move yeast and fungus out of your body, preventing them from being excreted through your skin where they could trigger acne or rashes.
- Gallstones and kidney stones: A high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of gallstones and kidney stones, likely because of its ability to help regulate blood sugar.
Fiber: Daily recommendations for adults
Age 50 or younger
Age 51 or older
Your best fiber choices
If you aren’t getting enough fiber each day, you may need to boost your intake. Good choices include:
Soluble fiber is found in varying quantities in all plant foods, best sources are:
- Legumes (peas, soybeans, lupins and other beans)
- Oats, rye,chia and barley
- Some fruits like figs, avocados, plums,prunes, berries, ripe bananas, and the skin of apples, quinces, pears and citrus fruits.
- Certain vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, brinjal, tomato, celery
- Root tubers and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and onions (skins of these are sources of insoluble fiber also)
- Psyllium seed husk (a mucilage soluble fiber) and flax seeds.
- Nuts with almonds being the highest in dietary fiber
Sources of insoluble fiber include:
- Whole grains foods
- Wheat and corn bran
- Legumes such as beans and peas
- Nuts and seeds like flaxseeds, sesame seeds.
- Vegetables such as green beans, cauliflower, celery, cabbage, bell peppers, onions.
- Some fruits including avocados, and unripe bananas
- The skins of some fruits and vegetables including kiwifruit, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, potato.
High-fiber foods are good for your health. But adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.
Also, drink plenty of water. Fiber works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky.
Updated: August 1, 2008
More by Nancy Routch, RD, LDN
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You’ve surely heard all about fiber and its many virtues. For starters, we know that eating lots of fiber-filled foods is associated with a regular pooping schedule, but it's also associated with improved heart health, feeling full and satisfied after meals, and keeping your blood sugar stable. But how much should you actually be eating—especially if your main goal is to go to the bathroom regularly? Here’s the deal on how much fiber you actually need to be eating.
What fiber does
Dietary fiber is a kind of carb found in plant foods, including whole grains (like oats, barley, and whole wheat pasta), legumes (lentils, beans), nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Its structure makes it difficult for our digestive systems to break down, so it largely passes on through, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains.
There are two types of fiber: soluble, which dissolves in water to create a gelish substance, and insoluble, which doesn’t break down at all. Certain foods might be higher in one or the other, but most plant foods usually contain some of both.
We need fiber in our diets for a few reasons. First and foremost is the pooping aspect, obviously. “Adequate fiber intake is very important for regular bowel movements and digestive health,” Christine Lee, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF.
Insoluble fiber is especially critical in this regard. It helps add bulk to your stool, and accelerates the movement of food through the digestive system to prevent you from getting backed up, according to the FDA. The result? Softer stools and more consistent bowel movements, Dr. Lee says.
Soluble fiber actually has the opposite effect: It slows down digestion, which prevents all of the food you eat from being broken down and excreted too rapidly. That’s why you generally want both, so they can sort of balance each other out and keep things regular.
Fiber is beneficial in other ways, too. It helps regulate the levels of your LDL cholesterol and blood sugar, per the FDA, and it can help increase feelings of fullness for longer after a meal.
How much fiber you need
Now, the answer you’re here for. The Dietary Guidelines correlate your optimal fiber intake with your caloric intake. They say people should get about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories in their diet. In general, fiber recommendations also vary according to age and sex—for example, the recommendation is highest for men in their 20s, because the number is based off projected caloric intake.
Now, remember that the Dietary Guidelines are just that: guidelines, not rules. Your daily caloric intake isn’t necessarily that cookie-cutter average 2,000 calories per day—we all have different nutritional needs and ways of eating that work for us. At the end of the day, we’re all a little different, and so are our fiber needs, Dr. Lee says, for a variety of reasons. Some of this is just individual variation. Your gut might be more or less sensitive to fiber than other people’s, Dr. Lee says. Or maybe you just feel better eating a bit more or less than recommended, for reasons only your gut knows.
There are also lifestyle factors that can affect your fiber requirements in the short or long term. One is your activity level, because exercise can help move digestion along. So an athlete might need to eat less fiber to be regular than someone who doesn’t work out much, Dr. Lee says. Another one is stress, Dr. Lee says, which can cause diarrhea in many people and constipation in others because the digestive system and the brain communicate with each other, as SELF previously reported.
And there are some medical factors to consider. Having any kind of GI condition can definitely affect your ideal fiber intake in either direction, Dr. Lee says. That includes Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, chronic pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and diverticulosis or diverticulitis. This is extremely variable across conditions, people, and the course of illness, so it’s really important for anyone with a digestive issue to talk to their doctor about how it might impact their fiber needs, Dr. Lee says. For instance, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find that fiber helps decrease symptoms like bloating, pain, and diarrhea, according to the Cleveland Clinic, while certain fibrous foods like fruit, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can actually cause bloating and gas.
Same goes for any non-GI condition that affects your digestive system. For example, stroke and diabetes can cause constipation by impacting the muscles or nerves involved in bowel movements, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Since the first-line treatment for constipation is generally consuming more fiber (along with water and exercise), per the NIDDK, doctors may recommend eating more fibers. There are also a number of medications that can have constipation or diarrhea as a side effect, Dr. Lee says, such as opioid pain relievers. If a condition or medication is causing you to experience either problem, talk to your doctor about whether you should cut down on your fiber (in the case of diarrhea), or boost it (in the case of constipation), or if certain kinds of fibery foods might be better for you than others.
What happens when you get too little (or too much) fiber
As you may have unpleasantly experienced at some point in your life, too little fiber can cause digestive issues like constipation. But there is good evidence associating adequate or high dietary fiber intake with a reduced risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). That said, we don’t know for sure if it’s fiber specifically that’s associated with these benefits, since someone who eats a lot of dietary fiber is likely eating a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. That same person may also enjoy regular exercise. The point is, the correlation between high dietary fiber intake and reduced risk of health conditions does not necessarily equal causation with the intake of fiber itself. But we do know that fiber has positive effects on LDL cholesterol and blood sugar control. And clearly, the important message here is that eating fiber-rich foods is a generally good thing to do for your body.
Dietary fiber can keep you full, help you to lose weight, and improve your overall health. By using these tips to add more to your diet, you can look and feel your best.
What is fiber?
Many of us associate fiber with digestive health and bowel function. But eating foods high in dietary fiber can do so much more than keep you regular. It can lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, improve the health of your skin, and help you lose weight. It may even help prevent colon cancer.
Fiber, also known as roughage, is the part of plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans) that the body can’t break down. It passes through the body undigested, keeping your digestive system clean and healthy, easing bowel movements, and flushing cholesterol and harmful carcinogens out of the body.
Fiber comes in two varieties: insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It is the bulky fiber that helps to prevent constipation, and is found in whole grains, wheat cereals, and vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps control blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. Good sources include barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.
Many foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber. There is no fiber in meat, dairy, or sugar. Refined or “white” foods, such as white bread, white rice, and pastries, have had all or most of their fiber removed.
The health benefits of fiber
The latest figures show that nine out of ten Americans are not eating enough fiber—and people in other parts of the world are also falling well short. Part of the problem may be due to the association with bathroom habits. Yes, fiber offers a healthy and effective way to stay regular, but that’s not the only reason why we should be including more in our diets. Many different studies have highlighted how eating a diet high in fiber can boost your immune system and overall health, and improve how you look and feel.
Some of the benefits include:
Digestive health. Dietary fiber normalizes bowel movements by bulking up stools and making them easier to pass. This can help relieve and prevent both constipation and diarrhea. Eating plenty of fiber can also reduce your risk for diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestine), hemorrhoids, gallstones, kidney stones, and provide some relief for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Some studies have also indicated that a high-fiber diet may help to lower gastric acid and reduce your risk for gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and ulcers.
Diabetes. A diet high in fiber—particularly insoluble fiber from cereals—can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, eating soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and improve your blood sugar levels.
Cancer. There is some research that suggests eating a high-fiber diet can help prevent colorectal cancer, although the evidence is not yet conclusive. Diets rich in high-fiber foods are also linked to a lower risk for other common digestive system cancers, including stomach, mouth, and pharynx.
Skin health. When yeast and fungus are excreted through the skin, they can trigger outbreaks or acne. Eating fiber, especially psyllium husk (a type of plant seed), can flush toxins out of your body, improving the health and appearance of your skin.
Heart health. Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, is an important element of any heart-healthy diet. Eating a diet high in fiber can improve cholesterol levels by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. A high fiber intake can also reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors linked to coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Fiber can also help to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, and shed excess weight around the abdomen.
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Fibre isn’t just for digestion, it can help keep your heart healthy too. But most of us don’t eat enough fibre. Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor explains what fibre is, why we need it, and how to get more fibre into your diet.
What is fibre?
Dietary fibre, which you might know as roughage (the old term for it), is the name for substances in plant foods that cannot be completely broken down by digestion. It’s only found in foods that come from plants, and specifically in starchy carbohydrates, fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils.
Higher intakes of dietary fibre are associated with a lower risk of heart and circulatory disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
Animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, like cheese and yoghurt, don’t contain any fibre. Nor do fats, whether they are plant or animal-based.
Why is fibre good for us?
We’ve known for a long time that fibre helps keep our digestive system healthy. However, in the past 25 years research in this field has moved on and we’ve discovered other benefits. Higher intakes of dietary fibre, especially from cereal fibre and wholegrains, are associated with a lower risk of heart and circulatory disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
As a result, the official recommendation on the amount of fibre we should be eating has been increased. The recommendation comes from a 2015 report on carbohydrates and health by the Scientific Committee on Nutrition, which advises government bodies.
How much fibre should I be eating?
The current recommendation is that adults should eat 30g of fibre a day. Currently, average intakes are around 20g a day, so most of us have a long way to go. To reach 30g, make sure that as well as choosing higher-fibre options at meals, your snacks are rich in fibre too.
To help the fibre do its job, make sure you are drinking enough fluid, especially if it’s hot or you’re being physically active
The good news is that most sources of fibre fit well into a healthy, balanced diet that will help to protect you from heart and circulatory disease. Fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds are the foods to look out for. If you are buying ready-made products like bread, pasta or ready meals, check the nutritional information on the back of the pack. It needs to contain 3g per 100g to be called a source of fibre and 6g per 100g (or 3g per 100kcals) to claim to be high in fibre.
Won’t eating more fibre give me wind?
Some people are put off eating more fibre because they think it might affect their digestion. Bloating and flatulence can be associated with a sudden increase in the amount of fibre in your diet. To avoid this, increase the amount of fibre you are eating gradually. Make one change at a time, introducing the next once your body has adjusted. To help the fibre do its job, make sure you are drinking enough fluid, especially if it’s hot or you’re being physically active.
Are all types of fibre the same?
There are different types of fibre, which have different effects on our bodies and health, so it’s important to include them all in your diet.
Insoluble fibre is probably what you think of as fibre. It helps us to have a healthy digestive system by passing through our bodies without being broken down. This helps other foods move through too, reducing the amount of time that takes. High-fibre breakfast cereals, wholegrains, vegetables, potatoes with skins, nuts and seeds are the kinds of foods that will provide us with insoluble fibre.
The main thing is to get plenty of fibre in a variety of wholegrains, beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables, as this will help you get the benefits of each fibre variety
Soluble fibre works differently, as it dissolves in water and forms a gel in the gut. This type of fibre helps to keep stools soft, which may help prevent or treat constipation. It may also help to lower cholesterol levels. It’s found in grains like oats, barley and rye, fruit, beans, pulses and vegetables such as carrots and potatoes.
Resistant starch is now also included in the definition of dietary fibre. It is found in foods such as bananas, potatoes, grains and beans. It can form in some starchy foods such as rice and potatoes when they are cooked and then cooled, and is also added to certain foods. It can’t be digested in the small intestine, but it does ferment in the large intestine. That may sound bad, but it’s actually helpful as it produces short-chain fatty acids, which helps keep the gut healthy.
There aren’t specific recommendations on the amounts of each type of fibre you should eat. The main thing is to get plenty of fibre in a variety of wholegrains, beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables, as this will help you get the benefits of each fibre variety. This also fits with the 5-a-day recommendations that we eat a range of different fruit and vegetables.
This sounds like hard work – can I just take a fibre supplement?
Fibre supplements are available from pharmacies and health food shops as tablets, in sachets to mix into a drink, or as a powder to add to food. Natural bran is
also used to add fibre to your diet. However, it’s better to get the fibre you need from whole foods. Adding raw bran to food can reduce the absorption of some minerals, such as iron and calcium, and a sudden increase in fibre could lead to bloating or wind.
Fibre supplements may also affect how some medicines work, so if your doctor or dietitian hasn’t recommended you take them, check with your doctor before you use them.
- Discover our healthy swaps to help you eat more fibre.
- Test your knowledge in our fibre quiz.
The benefits of oats
Products that contain oat beta glucans, a type of soluble fibre, are allowed to claim that they can help lower cholesterol levels if they contain at least 1g of beta glucans per serving. But remember, you need to consume at least 3g per day to actually get the cholesterollowering benefits.
However, don’t feel you have to buy products where oat beta glucans have been added. Oat-based products such as porridge, muesli, oatcakes, oat bread and some oat milks also contain oat beta glucans and are often cheaper.
If you have a variety of these foods across the day, you can get your 3g of oat beta glucans.
Just 7% of adults meet fiber recommendations, raising risk of chronic diseases
Rockville, Maryland (June 7, 2021) — Only 5% of men and 9% of women are getting the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber, according to a study being presented at NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE. Insufficient fiber intake is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, two of the most common diseases in the U.S.
“These findings should remind people to choose fiber-rich foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables to reduce their risk for heart disease,” said Derek Miketinas, PhD, RD, an assistant professor at Texas Woman’s University, the study’s lead author. “Based on our findings, fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. adults meet their daily recommendations for fiber intake. For those with diabetes, it is especially important to eat enough fiber since they are at a greater risk for heart disease.”
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that passes through the body undigested. Though perhaps best known for its role in supporting regular bowel movements, fiber also carries important benefits for cardiovascular health. Studies suggest dietary fiber can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation and help prevent diabetes. It can also improve blood sugar levels for people with diabetes.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 14,600 U.S. adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2013-2018. Fiber intake was assessed using dietary questionnaires; diabetes status was self-reported and also assessed with hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels. Researchers only analyzed fiber intake from dietary sources, excluding fiber supplements.
“Unlike other similar studies, our analysis estimated Americans’ usual fiber intake using advanced statistical methods instead of calculating a simple average,” said Miketinas. “This approach is a better indicator of what a person typically eats because it can account for other factors that may influence fiber intake.”
Health guidelines recommend eating 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed (g/1,000 kcal) daily. On average, women in the study consumed 9.9 g/1,000 kcal and men consumed 8.7 g/1,000 kcal. Among those with diabetes, women consumed 10.3 g/1,000 kcal and men consumed 9.6 g/1,000 kcal, higher than average but still falling short of recommendations.
To get the right amount of fiber, the typical woman should aim for about 25 grams (for a 2,000 calorie diet), while men should aim for 38 grams (for a 2,500 calorie diet), with lower targets for those over age 50. This typically requires a good mix of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. For perspective, choosing a whole grain such as pearled barley will provide 6 grams of fiber per cup compared to less than 2 grams of fiber in white rice.
In addition to shedding light on Americans’ eating habits, Miketinas said the new findings can help inform future research into chronic disease prevention.
“The results of this study can be used to identify relationships between dietary fiber intake and outcomes of interest like risk factors for heart disease,” said Miketinas. “In fact, our preliminary analysis suggests that higher dietary fiber intake in adults with diabetes is strongly associated with reductions in markers for heart and kidney disease.”
Miketinas will present this research in an on-demand poster session during NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE from noon on Monday, June 7 through 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 10 (abstract; presentation details).Images available.
Please note that abstracts presented at NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE were evaluated and selected by a committee of experts but have not generally undergone the same peer review process required for publication in a scientific journal. As such, the findings presented should be considered preliminary until a peer-reviewed publication is available.
About NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE
NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE, held June 7-10, 2021 is a dynamic virtual event showcasing new research findings and timely discussions on food and nutrition. Scientific symposia explore hot topics including clinical and translational nutrition, food science and systems, global and public health, population science and cellular and physiological nutrition and metabolism. https://meeting.nutrition.org #NutritionLiveOnline
About the American Society for Nutrition (ASN)
ASN is the preeminent professional organization for nutrition research scientists and clinicians around the world. Founded in 1928, the society brings together the top nutrition researchers, medical practitioners, policy makers and industry leaders to advance our knowledge and application of nutrit