An Instagram follower recently asked me the following question when I was collecting questions for a Q&A: How much fiber do you actually need? And how can you make sure you’re getting enough fiber? I thought addressing this question and suggesting ways to incorporate fiber into your diet could make a useful blog post. Fiber is an essential part of healthy diet, and most Americans don’t get enough.
So here we are today. I have a yummy recipe coming tomorrow and the long-awaited post on celery juice coming Tuesday (Please pardon my delay with that one; it just takes a considerable amount of time/energy/effort to thoroughly research nutrition-related topics I haven’t extensively specifically studied before).
Okay! On to fiber:
*Disclaimer: As always, this is general information intended for healthy adults. Your needs may vary based on medical status, lifestyle, or life-stage. Please never replace generalized health information you’ve read online with individualized clinical care.
First of all, what is fiber?
Dietary fiber is substance derived primarily from plant material that is composed of non-starchy complex carbohydrates and lignin. Functional fiber also consists of non-digestible carbohydrates that have been isolated, extracted, or manufactured that have been shown to have beneficial psychological effects.
To put it simply, dietary fiber is naturally found in foods, and functional fiber is often added to foods. Both are beneficial to human health.
Fiber is considered non-digestible, as the mammals do not produce the necessary enzymes to break it down to digest it. Since it can’t be digested, it is generally considered to not add calories to your diet.
Bacteria in the gut do feed on fiber, and some of the metabolites released by these bacteria are used by humans as a source of energy; however, there is great individual variability in the amount of energy harvested, making it difficult to assign a caloric value, and since it likely isn’t too significant, for now most people simply go with the “fiber has no calories” mentality.
How does fiber impact human health?
The health benefits of adequate fiber consumption are well-documented. Eating enough fiber has been shown to prevent and mitigate a variety of metabolic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypercholesterolemia, and hyperglycemia. Ample fiber intake has also been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.
Fiber is also good for digestion. Eating enough fiber improves regularity and helps prevent constipation. If you find yourself backed up, consider gradually bulking up your fiber intake.
Prebiotic fiber also feeds your gut microbiota. Fostering a healthy gut microbiome is not only important for digestion, but can help keep your glucose, insulin, and satiety hormones in check, meaning it keeps your blood sugar more stable, and allows you to be better in touch with your hunger and fullness sensation hormones.
How much fiber do I need?
The current USDA guidelines currently suggest health adult women should aim to consume 25 grams of fiber per day, and that men should aim to consume 38 grams per day. The guidelines also suggest women over 50 consume 21 grams, and men over 50 consume 30 grams.
What are the different types of fiber?
There are many kinds of fibers. Dietary fibers include cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, lignin, gumms, B-gluans, fructans, and resistant starches. Functional fibers include cellulose, pectin, lignin, gums, B-gluans, fructans,chitin and chitosan, polydextrose and polyols, psllium, resistant dextrins, and resistance starches.
I could go into great detail about every individual type of fiber, but I believe that for the general public, that isn’t necessary, nor does it contribute much useful knowledge when it comes to applying nutrition into daily life.
What is useful to know is the difference between soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Fibers that dissolve in hot water are considered soluble; those that do not are considered insoluble. In general, water-soluble fibers include gums, hemicelluloses, pectans, fructans, psyllium, and some resistant starches.
By attracting water, soluble fiber and helps form a gel-like substance during digestion. This can help you bulk up your poops and get things out if you’re backed up.
Food sources of soluble fiber include legumes, oats, barley, some fruits (including bananas, berries, apples, and pears), and some vegetables including broccoli, carrots, and onions.
Insoluble fiber also helps with digestion by pushing things along, and speeding up your ‘transit time’ (aka the amount of time food sits in your colon). It is found in foods such as wheat bran, whole grains, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
It’s important to note that many foods have a combination of soluble and insoluble fibers. Generally speaking, most vegetable and grain products contain more insoluble than soluble fibers. Both are good for you.
What foods are rich in fiber?
Fiber is only found in plant foods. Luckily, there are a variety of delicious plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Yay plants!
Foods naturally high in fiber include:
- Raspberries – 1 cup contains 9 grams of fiber
- Blackberries – 1 cup contains 7.6 grams of fiber
- Artichokes – 1 large artichoke contains 8.7 grams of fiber
- Lentils – 1 cup of cooked lentils contains 15.6 grams of fiber
- Chickpeas -1 cup of cooked chickpeas contains 12.5 grams of fiber
- Oats – ½ cup raw oats contains 8.3 grams of fiber
- Barley – 1 cup cooked contains 9 grams of fiber
- Popcorn – 3 cups popped contains 3.5 grams of fiber
- Almonds – 1 cup raw almonds contains 17.9 grams of fiber
- Chia seeds – 3 tablespoons contains 10 grams of fiber
- Dark chocolate – 2 ounces of 70-85% contains 6.2 grams of fiber
- Sweet potatoes – 1 large baked sweet potato (with skin) has 5.9 grams of fiber
- Kale – 3 cups raw contains 2.9 grams fiber
- Broccoli – 1 cup raw contain 2.4 grams fiber
Functional Fiber Foods:
- High fiber multigrain bread – 4.5 grams fiber per slice
- Fiber One Cereal – 14 grams fiber per ½ cup serving
Among many others. Take home point here: produce is generally your fiber friend.
How can I up my fiber intake?
Sadly, most Americans do not consume enough fiber. This makes me sad, because fiber is often found in delicious foods, and also, like are you all pooping okay out there? I am considered for the poop status of our country. Let me help those struggling to get enough fiber with some tips for increasing fiber intake.
When looking to increase your fiber intake, focus on fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and seeds (fresh or frozen is fine). Consider eating the skins or peels of fruits and vegetables, as it often contains a large amount of fiber. Select whole fruits and vegetables over juices, which remove much of the pulp and skins, and thus a bulk of the fiber.
Functional fiber is also added to many snack food products and cereals (like Fiber One, fiber-enriched bread products). See the above list of functional fiber types and check ingredient lists and nutrition facts to see if fiber has been added to your favorite foods, or to help you select fiber-rich foods.
If you are starting from a point of low fiber consumption, try to increase your intake slowly to avoid shocking your system. If you have some…GI side effects..know that most people should be able adjust to fiber and eventually be able to consume a normal amount.
Always increase water intake if you are increasing fiber intake; it is essential to help things move through your system!
Take home points:
Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, and helps keep your belly full, your bowels regular, and helps prevent some types of cancer, as well as a variety of cardiovascular, metabolic illnesses. Unfortunately, most people do not get enough.
If you want to increase your fiber intake, aim to increase your intake of whole fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans, and legumes. When selecting bread products, look for those with “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain” flours, and/or go for sprouted grain products.
Getting enough fiber can be fun and delicious. Plus, it may help you poop!
I hope you enjoyed this fiber-filled post and I hope it helped you answer the question of “how much fiber do I need?” As always, leave questions, comments, or topic suggestions here, or hit me up on Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube!
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