Feeling Good with Fiber: A quick reference guide to dietary fiber

Fiber provides a number of health benefits, which makes it worthwhile to fancy up your diet with fiber. Here are the four most important facts you need to know about dietary fiber:

What is it? Why is it important?  What are the sources?  How much should I consume? 
 Fiber is the non-digestable form of carbohydrate that passes through the digestive tract and out of the body  Diets high in fiber support digestive health, help manage weight, and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Fiber can be found in a number of foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and some pacakged foods like cereal and grain bars.  Daily fiber recommendations are based on age. For example, women 50 or younger should consume 25 grams of fiber per day and men age 50 or younger should consume 38 grams of fiber per day.

 

WHAT IS IT?

Dietary fiber is the part of plants that cannot be digested or absorbed by the body and is often referred to as “roughage” or “bulk.” Fiber passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, and colon and out of your body.

Fiber is commonly classified as soluble fiber or insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water whereas insoluble fiber does not. Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels, while insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Consuming a diet rich in fiber can benefit health in many ways including providing digestive health benefits and weight management. Additionally, diets rich in fiber are associated with a reduced risk for developing certain diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

  • Fiber plays an important role in maintaining digestive health. Fiber cannot be broken down in your digestive tract, so instead of being absorbed, like other nutrients, it pushes the contents of your gut along.
  • Fiber can help with weight management. Foods high in fiber are processed more slowly by the body and tend to produce a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.  High fiber foods require more chewing and may take longer to eat, giving your body time to recognize that it is full.
  • Soluble fiber also plays a role in lowering cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Whole grain oats, oat bran, oatmeal, oat flour, barley and rye provide a particular form of soluble fiber known as beta glucan which has been shown to help lower cholesterol. Beta glucan from whole grain oats forms a gel in the digestive tract, which binds cholesterol in the small intestine and helps remove it from the body. Consuming foods rich in soluble fiber, like oats, may also help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

WHAT ARE THE SOURCES?

Dietary fiber occurs naturally in a number of food sources such as:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Beans (Navy beans, pinto beans, black beans, lentils)
  • Peas (split peas)

Fiber can be found naturally in some packaged foods and is also being added to many packaged foods like dessert mixes, baked goods, grain bars and cereals for added convenience and benefits.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I CONSUME?

Achieving the daily fiber recommendation is possible! There are different recommended daily intakes based on age and gender.  It’s recommended that you get 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories that you consume each day. To find out how many calories you need each day visit Food Plans at MyPlate.Gov. Or, use the table below to find out the recommended amount of fiber you need based on age and gender:

 

Boys

Girls

Age 9-13

31 grams

 26 grams

Age 14-18

38 grams

29 grams

 

 

Men

Women

Age 50 or younger

38 grams

25 grams

Age 51 or older

30 grams

21 grams

Charts adapted from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

 

To ensure you are meeting the daily recommendation for fiber, read the nutrition facts panel to help you understand the fiber content in a food product. Dietary fiber is listed on every nutrition facts panel, so it’s easy to find foods rich in fiber. Foods with at least 10% of your Daily Value for fiber are considered a “good source,” while foods with 20% or more of your Daily Value are considered an “excellent source” of fiber.

Remember to add fiber slowly to your diet to minimize gastrointestinal discomfort. Consult with a Registered Dietitian or doctor before making any major changes to your fiber intake. 

Here is an example of how to achieve the 25 gram recommendation for women age 50 or younger:

Fiber

With a number of fresh and packaged food options, you can feel good with fiber and the support it provides your digestive system and overall health.

 

 

REFERENCES

USDA National Nutrient Database. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov 

U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov

Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fiber/NU00033/METHOD=print