Many people struggle consuming enough fiber in their diet and some even consider it a chore. Why is fiber important in your diet and what is the recommended amount of fiber? What Is Fiber?
According to the American Heart Association, dietary fiber describes several materials that make up the parts of plants your body can't digest. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate but, unlike other carbs, it cannot be broken down into digestible sugar molecules.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are two types of dietary fiber, and most plant foods contain some of each kind:
- Soluble fiber: dissolves in water to form a thick gel-like substance in the stomach. It is broken down by bacteria in the large intestine and provides some calories.
- Insoluble fiber: does not dissolve in water and passes through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact and, therefore, is not a source of calories.
What Is The Recommended Intake Of Fiber?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, dietary fiber intake in the U.S. continues to be less than recommended, with average consumption near 15 grams per day. The American Heart Association suggests the daily value for fiber is 25 grams per day on a 2,000-calorie diet for adults. This number may also depend on age or sex:
- Women under 50: 21 to 25 grams per day
- Men under 50: 30 to 38 grams per day
Children between ages 1 and 18 should eat 14 to 31 grams of fiber per day, depending on their age and sex.
Health Benefits Of Fiber In Diet
The FDA states that diets higher in dietary fiber promote intestinal regularity and can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
The health benefits of fiber are significant. Four areas related to fiber and overall health impacts were analyzed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The areas reviewed include heart disease, gastrointestinal health and disease, weight control and diabetes.
Let’s take a closer look at these areas.
Heart Benefits Of Fiber
Based on current data, fiber intake from whole foods or supplements may lower blood pressure, improve blood fat levels, and reduce inflammation.
Fiber and Your Weight
Fiber appears to positively impact weight management, too. Current evidence indicates fiber intake from whole foods or supplements can assist with weight loss. Higher-fiber foods have less caloric density compared to foods higher in fat. Foods higher in fiber require the body to work harder at breaking them down. This generally results in increase fullness or satiety.
Fiber And Diabetes Control
For diabetes diets, providing 30 to 50 grams of fiber per day from whole-food sources consistently produced lower blood glucose levels compared to a low-fiber diet. Fiber supplements such as Metamucil or Konsyl taken at levels of 10 to 29 grams per day may have some benefits with glucose control as well.
Fiber And Your Digestive Tract
Regarding bowel function, current data suggests a lack of evidence when analyzing the impact of fiber from whole foods on outcomes regarding gastrointestinal diseases. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that further research is needed to clarify amounts and fiber types in gastrointestinal health and disease management.
How To Increase High-Fiber Foods
Increased consumption of higher fiber foods such as whole grains, whole fruits, fresh vegetables and legumes appears prudent for individuals not meeting their recommended daily fiber needs. Consuming more of these high-fiber foods would drive the American diet closer to the recommended fiber levels. High-fiber foods generally offer less caloric density and are lower in added sugar.
The following is a list of some whole foods and their fiber content. Add these foods slowly and increase in moderation to achieve 25 to 30 grams of daily:
- 1 large pear: 7 grams
- 1 cup fresh berries: 8 grams
- ½ medium avocado: 5 grams
- 1 ounce almonds: 3.5 grams
- ½ cup black beans: 7.5 grams
- 3 cups air popped popcorn: 3.5 grams
By Dale Batz
Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist, Franciscan Midwest Bariatric Institute