Many of us have heard that it’s important for good health to eat a diet that includes a lot of fiber – but what is dietary fiber, which foods are high in it, and how much of those foods should you eat?
What is fiber?
You may hear fiber you eat also called “roughage,” “bulk,” and “bran.” Fiber is the part of the plant foods that humans can’t digest. It is found in breads, fruits, cereals, vegetables, and grains.
Fiber is actually a carbohydrate which occurs in plant foods. It is made up of many sugar molecules linked together. Once ingested, fiber is bound together in such a way that the small intestine can’t readily digest it in the small intestine.
It might surprise you to know that animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products contain ZERO FIBER.
Fiber comes in two basic forms: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a thick gel-like substance in the stomach. Bacteria in the large intestine break it down and produce some energy from calories. Foods high in soluble fiber include:
- Oat bran
- Some beans
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water but does retain water. It passes through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact and, so, does not supply caloric energy Insoluble fiber is used to soften and build up stool to prevent or ease constipation. It is found in vegetables, whole grains, and wheat bran.
Why do you need fiber?
It is known that a regular daily intake of fiber has many benefits and can help even if you are healthy. Fiber can help keep bowels working properly and prevent backing up (constipation).
Research shows that fiber can also reduce your chance of getting colon cancer. I was surprised to learn that:
“Excluding skin cancer, colorectal [colon] cancer is third-most-common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. For 2018, it is projected that there will be more than 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 deaths from the disease.”
Dietary fiber is considered a “nutrient of public health concern” because low intakes are linked to potential health risks.
By increasing food bulk, fiber gives your brain more time to realize that your body is no longer hungry and helps prevent overeating. By providing bulk and softening stool, the pressure of hard bowel movements is eliminated. This decreases the risk of irritable bowel syndrome, a condition which affects some 25 million Americans.
How much fiber do you need?
Most Americans eat less than the recommended daily amount of fiber (RDI) of 25 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Value (DV) may be higher or lower than that amount depending on your calorie needs.
When choosing foods, look at the ingredients and nutritional information label — select foods with a higher %DV (percentage of your Daily Value) of dietary fiber. The goal is to get 100% of the Daily Value for dietary fiber on most days.
5% DV or less of dietary fiber per serving is low
20% DV or more of dietary fiber per serving is high
Another cautionary note: don’t eat too much fiber or you court diarrhea and bloating. Just how much is too much depends on each person’s sensitivity to fiber, which determines how much fiber to eat. Let your body be your guide. A good target is to eat the amount that results in normal bowel movements.
Where can you get fiber?
In an ideal world, you are getting all the fiber you need by eating the right amount of high fiber foods. Fiber supplements should be avoided and only used when other restrictions prevent this.
Foods eaten in their natural state are higher in fiber than the same foods after peeling or juicing.
Fruits and vegetables with edible skins are higher in fiber. Fruits can provide up to five grams of fiber in a single serving.
Cereals are a quick source of fiber. Breads with whole grain flours and added fiber are also a good source of fiber.
Legumes and beans contain up to 12 grams of fiber per cup. High fiber snacks include seeds, nuts, and popcorn.
Fiber is also available in powder form. Consult your healthcare provider before using these products if you have questions or medical conditions, or take other medications. Always read and follow the directions on product labels when you use them. Never exceed recommended dosages.
What are the important points to keep in mind about fiber?
The foods that supply the most fiber are:
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
As you add more fiber to your diet, do it gradually to avoid gas, cramping, bloating or diarrhea – and drink plenty of fluids – at least 8 cups daily.
Hive-five yourself by eating the right amount of fiber you need for optimum health!