You know that carbs, fats, and protein are all essential nutrients in a healthy, balanced diet, but what about fiber? Do you make a conscious effort to eat enough of this nutrient, or even know what the recommended daily fiber intake is? If you’re shaking your head no, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re likely one of many wondering, what fiber does and why it’s so important. So, we’re here to answer those questions.
What Is Dietary Fiber?
Think of fiber as a broom for your intestines. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that sweeps through the intestines and supports digestion. As it travels through the long intestinal tube, it grabs particles like cholesterol and fat and brings the particles with it upon exit.
Soluble VS. Insoluble Fiber
There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and adds bulk to stools. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps move food along the digestive tract promoting regularity and warding off constipation. Soluble fiber can also help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol.
A simple way to remember the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber is an apple — think of the inside of the apple as the soluble fiber, and the outside skin is the insoluble fiber. While you need and want to eat both soluble and insoluble fiber, don’t get too hung up on how much you need of one or the other — just remember eating both has health benefits, especially when people eat the recommended 21-38 grams of fiber a day or 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories that you consume.
How Much Fiber Do You Need Per Day?
While this is the general recommendation, the recommended daily amount does vary among men and women. According to the Mayo Clinic, women should aim to get at least 21-25 grams of fiber per day, while men should strive to get 30-38 grams of fiber per day.
Why Is Fiber Good For You?
If you’re wondering what the benefits are, fiber may help to:
- Aid digestion and elimination
- Increase satiety to support weight loss and prevent overeating
- Reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and digestive tract issues
- Regulate blood sugar levels
- Reduce inflammation
- Support a healthy gut microbiome by “feeding” live probiotics
Despite the slew of health benefits associated with fiber only 5% of Americans eat enough. Yes, 95% of Americans are deficient in this key nutrient!
Why So Many Of Us Aren’t Eating Enough Fiber
Most are falling short due to lifestyle and the Standard American Diet (also known as SAD). The Standard American Diet is made up of highly processed foods, added sugar, fat, and sodium. The National Center for Health Statistics reported almost 37% of American adults eat fast food daily. And since most fast food choices are severely lacking fiber, eating this way does not help the cause.
Plus, only 1 in 10 Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day, and additionally, many people eat meals outside of the home. Not choosing the right foods or knowing what’s in your food can lead to many obstacles that prevent us from meeting the mark.
But we get it, life is busy, and there isn’t always time to prepare your own meals or grab healthy options. The good news is that with a few changes, even with a busy and active lifestyle, you can achieve the recommended amount of fiber to promote good health. And, there are many delicious options to choose from!
Examples of Food with High Fiber
Fiber-rich foods are easy to find with a little know-how. If you are following a whole-food diet rich in natural choices like produce, beans, and legumes, you are likely already on the right track.
Some fiber-rich foods that are delicious and convenient include:
Raspberries: 8 grams per 1 cup
Avocado: 10 grams per 1 cup
Artichoke: 10 grams per 1 medium cooked vegetable
Pear: 5.5 grams per 1 medium pear
Broccoli: 5 grams per 1 cup of chopped broccoli
Brussels sprouts: 4 grams per 1 cup
Quinoa: 5 grams per 1 cup
Whole Wheat Spaghetti: 6 grams per 1 cup cooked
Air Popped Popcorn: 3.5 grams per 1 cup
Brown Rice: 3.5 grams per 1 cup cooked
Lentils: 15.5 grams per 1 cup boiled
Black Beans: 15 grams per 1 cup boiled
Almonds: 3.5 grams per 23 almonds
Chia Seeds: 10 grams per 1 ounce
9 Tips on How to Increase Daily Fiber Intake
#1 Eat More Vegetables
You may have heard it over and over again, and we’re going to tell you one more time — vegetables are nutrient powerhouses that are jam-packed with fiber. At each meal, work up to filling half of the plate with these nutrient-rich foods.
Some of our favorites include: avocado, artichokes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, and squash.
#2 Try Soups & Stews
Adding more soups and stews into your diet is an easy way to increase fiber intake! Load them up with fiber-rich veggies and sip (or spoon) away. Chicken noodle, lentil, and tomato are some of our favorites.
Give this comforting immune-supporting soup a try!
#3 Dress Up Your Salad With Fiber-Rich Foods
If salad doesn’t frequent your weekly meal menu, let this inspire you to add it to your list! Salads are an easy way to increase your fiber intake, as it’s easy to load up your bowl with a variety of fiber-rich foods.
An example of a fiber-rich salad could include: a base of leafy greens like kale and spinach, ripe avocado, a serving of quinoa or lentils, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds like almonds and hemp seeds.
#4 Snack Smart
When choosing your snacks, choose wisely! Here are some fiber-rich snack examples:
- Raw vegetables and hummus
- A handful of fresh berries, nuts, and seeds
- Rice cakes with avocado and hemp seeds
- Chia seed pudding topped with fresh fruit
#5 Add Veggies to Breakfast
Eating an omelet for breakfast? Always add your favorite vegetables. Making a smoothie? Toss in a handful of spinach or kale (even cauliflower!). Craving a slice of avocado toast? Add some greens, and better yet, make it on a ‘sweet potato toast’ instead of a slice of bread.
#6 Amp Up Your Fruit Intake
Eat at least one serving of fruit a day. One serving of fruit is equivalent to one piece of fruit or a cup of cut fresh fruit. You can add banana or berries to breakfast cereal, yogurt, and pancakes, or enjoy a piece of whole fruit as a healthy snack (try varieties that are in season for better taste). Try freezing just overripe fruit and add to smoothies, and choose whole fruit over fruit juice.
#7 Go For Fiber-Rich Swaps
Swap refined grains for whole grains, choose brown rice or quinoa in place of white rice, give whole-grain pasta another try — it has come a long way! And snack on popcorn in place of pretzels.
#8 Read The Nutrition Labels
Check nutrition labels (always!!) on bread and cereals and aim for 5g fiber per serving.
#9 Enjoy Nuts & Seeds
Adding in a handful of nuts and seeds to meals and snacks will also boost your fiber intake — and they are also portable when out and about. Many stores sell these items in single-serving packages to make it even easier for you to grab and go. This is a great alternative when there are seemingly no healthy options!
How Much Fiber Is Too Much?
While we should all aim to get in more fiber in our diet, be mindful that there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Going overboard with fiber can increase the likelihood of bloat, constipation, or diarrhea. In extreme cases, too much fiber can even block the intestines.
While adequate fiber intake will aid digestion and prevent constipation, it can also increase the chances of constipation if consumed without adequate fluids. As you increase your fiber intake, be mindful that you’re also drinking enough water — for most, 64-100 oz daily will usually be sufficient.
To get started, add one swap a week and see how you feel and increase from there. The body will adapt and get used to the increased fiber, and you’ll reap all the benefits of this super-nutrient.
The Under Consumed Nutrient We All Need
Eating enough fiber is one way for you to support so many aspects of your overall health. And accomplishing this goal is simple if you are eating a well-balanced diet rich in whole and minimally processed foods. Adding more wholesome foods to your diet, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, seeds, and nuts can help you feed your gut, support digestion, and aid weight loss in a simple and delicious way.