Are You Getting Enough Dietary Fiber?Jul 30, 2023
Learn why fiber is an essential dietary component for preventing disease.
Fiber — we know we need it, but even with all the high-fiber foods out there, most people are still deficient.
Are you getting enough fiber?
The modern-day Western diet is highly processed and lacking in fiber, and it is estimated that the average person following a Standard American diet (SAD!) consumes about half of the recommended amount of dietary fiber each day.
This is a big deal, because high-fiber foods may help support a healthy digestive tract and guard against health concerns like cancer, heart disease, diverticulosis, kidney stones, PMS and obesity.
What is Fiber?
Along with adequate fluid intake, fiber is responsible for quickly moving foods through the digestive tract, helping it function optimally. Fiber works by drawing fluids from the body to add bulk to the stool. Note - when increasing dietary fiber, it is essential to start slowly and increase gradually!
Dietary fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that originates from plant-based foods.
While many carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules, fiber is not. Instead, it passes through the body undigested.
Dietary fiber is essential for homeostasis within the gut. The predominant health benefits extend to enhanced metabolic welfare, including protection against obesity and related metabolic diseases.
Diets have changed radically over the past few decades, with people consuming more ultra-processed foods void of dietary fiber. This lack of focus on the foods we eat has led to deficiencies in dietary fiber.
Because fiber helps regulate the body's use of sugars, helping keep hunger and blood sugar in check, and helping feed the good bacteria responsible for multiple health benefits, it is essential for optimal healthiness and longevity.
People with high intakes of dietary fiber appear to have an exceptionally lower risk for developing:
- Coronary heart disease,
- and certain gastrointestinal disorders.
We can get good sources of dietary fiber from the food we already eat, and we need to eat more of it.
Women's recommended daily fiber intake is 25 grams, while men should aim for 38 grams. Still, most Americans consume less than half of those recommended minimum levels.
The best sources of fiber are nuts, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
And because high-fiber foods are filling, they may help maintain weight and even aid weight loss. They are also generally a good source of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.
There are two varieties of fiber
- Soluble Fiber that dissolves in water and can help lower glucose levels and blood cholesterol. Some foods with soluble fiber include oatmeal, nuts, beans, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, apples and strawberries.
- Insoluble Fiber that does not dissolve in water, can help food move through your digestive system, promoting frequency and helping prevent constipation. Some foods with insoluble fibers include whole wheat bread, whole grain couscous, brown rice, green beans, cauliflower, cucumbers, broccoli and tomatoes.
Top Tips To Increase Fiber Intake
- Avoid drinking fruit juices; eat whole fruits instead.
- Substitute white grain rice, bread, and pasta with brown and whole-grain alternatives.
- For breakfast, swap ultra-processed cereals for natural foods like chia and almond pudding, eggs on whole-grain toast or oatmeal with fruit.
- Snack on fresh and dried fruit and raw vegetables instead of chips or chocolate.
- Explore vegetarian meals rich in beans or legumes once or twice per week.
- When shopping, challenge yourself to avoid the inner isle; getting most of your produce from the outer shelves of the supermarket (fresh fruit and vegetables, and frozen fruit and vegetables and other good foods).
Can We Have Too Much Fiber?
There is evidence that suggests a high end of fiber intake can cause symptoms — namely that people will probably begin noticing ongoing problems when they eat more than 45–70 grams of fiber consistently each day. That would be a challenge for most people, though.
The two more pressing concerns for the large majority of people are:
- Introducing too much fiber too fast and without proper precautions
- Taking excessive fiber supplements, including weight loss pills
Symptoms of too much fiber can include constipation or diarrhea, bloating, gas, acid reflux, and abdominal cramps or pain. The key when these symptoms occur is to reduce the amount of fiber temporarily, and then gradually increase the amount to a desirable level.
Those with IBS who are trying to increase their fiber intake may also want to consider increasing soluble fiber more than insoluble, because there is limited research that shows a high level of insoluble fiber may actually worsen the stomach pain associated with IBS.
The Bottom Line
Eating a variety of whole foods is the best way to maintain proper fiber intake (as well as all other important vitamins and nutrients).
Not focusing on one specific food or type of food to get all of your fiber is the only way to ensure you are eating both soluble and insoluble fibers as part of a balanced, healthy diet. Look for a variety of colors on your plate — fruits, vegetables, seeds and legumes are not bad for you, and most people need to eat more of them.
Balance is key!
Recipe ~ Mixed Berry Protein Overnight Oats
- 1 cup Oats (rolled)
- 1/2 cup Vanilla Protein Powder
- 1 cup Milk (dairy or plant-based)
- 1/4 cup Unsweetened Coconut Yogurt
- 2 tbsp Maple Syrup
- 1/2 cup Blueberries
- 1/2 cup Raspberries
- 2 tbsp Hemp Seeds
- Combine the oats and protein powder in a bowl or divided between two 2-cup mason jars. Stir in the milk, coconut yogurt, and maple syrup until smooth.
- Refrigerate overnight or for at least eight hours.
- Top with blueberries, raspberries, and hemp seeds. Enjoy!
- Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three days.
- Additional toppings - cinnamon, coconut flakes, nut butter, nuts, and seeds.
Sources & Further Reading
O'Grady J, O'Connor EM, Shanahan F. Review article: dietary fibre in the era of microbiome science. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2019 Mar;49(5):506-515. doi: 10.1111/apt.15129. PMID: 30746776
Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, Ferreri S, Knudtson M, Koraym A, Waters V, Williams CL. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009 Apr;67(4):188-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x. PMID: 19335713.
Barber TM, Kabisch S, Pfeiffer AFH, Weickert MO. The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):3209. Published 2020 Oct 21. doi:10.3390/nu12103209
EB, Ascherio A, Giovannucci E, Spiegelman D, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Vegetable, fruit, and cereal fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease among men. JAMA. 1996 Feb 14;275(6):447-51. doi: 10.1001/jama.1996.03530300031036. PMID: 8627965.
MA, O'Reilly E, Augustsson K, Fraser GE, Goldbourt U, Heitmann BL, Hallmans G, Knekt P, Liu S, Pietinen P, Spiegelman D, Stevens J, Virtamo J, Willett WC, Ascherio A. Dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Feb 23;164(4):370-6. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.4.370. PMID: 14980987.
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