Putting Fiber Back on the Plate or in the Bowl, or Glass

The word "fiber" can often sound less than appetizing, lending itself to images of tree bark and rose petals, rather than the variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, and beans, or tasty whole grain and high-fiber products where fiber is found.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that people of all ages consume 14 grams of fiber for each 1,000 calories they consume. This means that most adult women should aim to eat more than 20 grams of fiber a day and that men should strive for more than 30 grams per day. Yet, most Americans consume about half the amount of fiber recommended by the IOM. According to the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 03-04), average intakes of dietary fiber from food range from 12.3 to 13.8 grams per day for adult women 19-50 years and 15.0 to 18.3 grams per day for adult men 19-50 years.

In the 2007 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Research consumers were asked if they were aware of certain connections between fiber and potential health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, or maintaining a healthy digestive system. While awareness was high at 70 percent or greater, the number of consumers who were already consuming fiber for a health benefit capped out at 57 percent or lower. The message is clear: people understand the benefits of fiber, but consumption is falling short. How can we help consumers bridge this disconnect and make fiber more appealing? The key is in focusing on the "how" rather then the "what." Since the benefits of fiber for reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer and helping to maintain a healthy digestive system and a healthy weight are known, consumers obviously need information that goes beyond the benefits and provides them with advice on how to include more fiber in their diets. Here are some simple tips for how to build a high-fiber diet:

  • Fiber-ful Breakfast. The first meal of the day is the most important, not only because it gives you energy to start the day, but also because it is one of the best opportunities to load up on fiber. There are a host of high-fiber cereals from which to choose—then add a banana or another favorite fruit to the bowl along with some fat-free milk for a quick and easy fiber fix.
  • Fiber Snack Attack. Try a slice of whole-wheat bread with a fresh and juicy red or green apple; feel free to add a little peanut butter to the mix for a great tasting and nutritious snack.
  • Get Fiber on a Roll. Next time you bite into a tortilla or sandwich roll make sure that it is whole wheat or whole grain corn meal to reap more fiber benefits. Also try adding spring mix or spinach, artichokes, and hummus or chickpeas to add in more fiber. Top it all off with low-fat cheese and a side of crunchy pear slices.
  • Frozen Fiber. Vegetables are a great source of fiber, and there is no easier way to add more veggies to your plate then heating up a frozen vegetable medley and adding it to your meal.
  • Fiber in a Glass. Red juicy raspberries, sweet blueberries, tasty bananas and strawberries are all fiber-rich fruits. Add one or all of these fruits to a blender with some yogurt and ice for a quick and easy smoothie that you can pour into a to-go cup for a grab-and-go snack or a quick morning starter. Add more fiber to the smoothie by grinding up some almonds and mixing them in.

For more information about the health benefits of fiber see: The IFIC Foundation Fact Sheet: Fiber.