Filling the fiber gap
5/1/2023 by Meredith Bonde, BS
Dietary fiber has made a name for itself for its role in relieving constipation. But did you know its benefits extend beyond digestive health? Other benefits include better gut health, lower cholesterol, bowel regularity and healthy weight control. There are easy ways to add fiber to your diet.
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber includes the parts of plant foods that the body is unable to digest or absorb.
How much fiber do you need?
The American adult's average fiber intake is 15 grams per day — about half of the recommended dietary intake, making it a nutrient of concern. It's important to find ways to fill the fiber gap.
- Daily fiber goal for women: 21 g for age 50 and older, 25 g for those under 50.
- Daily fiber goal for men: 30 g for age 50 and older, 38 g for those under 50.
Benefits of fiber
The benefits of fiber depend on the type of fiber – soluble or insoluble. Choose a variety of fiber-rich foods to reap the benefits of both types. Most plant foods contain both types of fiber.
- Soluble fiber: lowers LDL cholesterol levels, helps control blood glucose and increases healthy gut bacteria.
- Benefits of insoluble fiber: prevents constipation and promotes bowel regularity.
- Both fiber types: helps with feeling full by filling the stomach while providing few calories, which promotes a healthy weight; may play a role in preventing colorectal cancer and colorectal conditions like hemorrhoids and diverticulitis.
- Choose plants to increase dietary fiber: fiber is found exclusively in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds; animal-based foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy contain no dietary fiber.
Easy ways to add dietary fiber at each meal
- Use whole-wheat bread for peanut butter toast.
- Add bell pepper, mushrooms or spinach to scrambled eggs.
- Top oatmeal with a sliced banana.
- Choose a whole orange over orange juice.
- Make sandwiches with whole-wheat bread and add sliced tomatoes, lettuce or spinach.
- Pack a cup of fresh mixed fruit like melon, pineapple and blueberries.
- Have a baked potato or sweet potato with skin.
- Include plant-based proteins like beans, chickpeas, lentils and edamame in soups, stews, stir-fries and side dishes.
- Choose whole-wheat pasta and whole grains such as quinoa, bulgur or barley.
- Season and roast a tray of vegetables like onions, potatoes, bell peppers and chickpeas.
- Grab a banana, apple, or orange.
- Add berries to your yogurt.
- Have a handful of nuts or seeds, such as almonds or sunflower seeds.
- Try vegetables such as carrots, red bell pepper or celery with hummus.
- Check the Nutrition Facts panel. Dietary fiber of at least 3 grams per serving is considered high fiber.
- Increase fluid intake while increasing fiber intake. If your body is not used to large amounts of fiber, constipation can occur without adequate hydration.
- If you have recently had a bowel obstruction or have a gastrointestinal condition that causes narrowing of the bowel, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian before adding more fiber.
Small changes lead to big results
Dietary fiber has many benefits, from digestive health to heart health. Remember, small changes are the most effective. Try adding one fiber-rich food each day and increase gradually – the benefits will add up!
Meredith Bonde, BS, is a dietetic intern at Mayo Clinic. She completed her bachelor's degree in health sciences at the University of Minnesota-Rochester and a second major in Nutrition at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She is working on her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with an interest in how culinary skills training can create more effective dietitians.