How to Include More Fiber in Your Eating

by Grace Rivers, RDN, CDCES

Eating foods with fiber offers many advantages. You are helping to protect against heart disease whenever your eating pattern includes an optimal amount of fiber (which is a critical component of managing diabetes). On the flip side of this, low fiber eating habits may increase your chance of stroke, heart attack, and insulin resistance.

Other benefits of eating fiber

An eating pattern that includes enough fiber can help with managing weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar. It also promotes a feeling of fullness for a longer time and can help to aid in having regular bowel movements.

Current recommendations for fiber intake

The recommendation for fiber intake is based on 14 grams for every 1000 calories eaten. The Adequate Intake for adult men 19 years and older is 30-38 grams daily. Adult women 19 years and older should aim for 21-25 grams. The amount varies based on the individual calorie intake and gender. This amount has been shown to provide for a healthier heart and cardiovascular system.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001-2010 showed adults only eat an average of 16 grams daily. 

Not all fiber is the same

Fiber originates from plants and is called dietary fiber. Another type of fiber called functional fiber is isolated from foods because of its health benefit and added to other food products. Functional fibers can help change the texture of foods and decrease the amount of fat and sugar in some processed food products.  

Digestion slows when you eat foods that contain soluble dietary fiber. Taming the rise in blood sugar and interfering with fat and cholesterol absorption, you benefit from more controlled blood sugar and cholesterol-lowering effects. Another advantage of soluble fiber is that it helps prevent constipation by forming a gel by drawing water into your gut. You also feel full for longer.

Soluble and insoluble dietary fibers occur in most plant foods. Insoluble fibers aid with digestion by moving more quickly through your gut and can help prevent constipation.

When eating foods with functional fiber, you do not receive the same benefits as whole plant foods. While fiber is in the processed product and furnishes a health benefit, it lacks the phytochemicals and other nutrients that provide potent antioxidant ingredients.

Tips to include more fiber

Instead of . . .                                              Eat . . .

White bread                                                 Whole-wheat bread

Rice                                                                Bulgur

Chips                                                              Fruit or veggies

Croutons                                                       Nuts or seeds

Fruit flavored yogurt                                 Add fruit to plain yogurt

Ranch or other salad dressing                Hummus

Low fiber cereal                                          Oatmeal or oat bran

Wheat pasta                                                Bean or whole wheat pasta

Sausage and biscuit                                   Half avocado with one tortilla

Rice in soup                                                 Beans or barley

Mayo on a sandwich                                 Avocado as the spread

The amount of fiber in plant foods

On average, fruits and veggies furnish about 2-3 grams of fiber in a serving. Beans, peas, and lentils offer 7-8 grams a serving. Whole grains, nuts, and seeds contribute 2-4 plus grams for each serving.

These numbers are small but add up over a day.

Reading a food label on processed foods

As with other ingredients, check out the serving size on a food label first. Then scroll down to Dietary Fiber. Included in this amount are the naturally occurring dietary fiber and added functional fibers. You will find processed foods that contain fiber that isn’t naturally occurring. An example could be yogurt or a snack bar.

Know this before you increase your fiber intake

When increasing fiber, add it to your eating pattern slowly, eat small amounts and boost your water intake to help with tolerance and passage through your gut.

Choose plant foods including veggies, fruits (remember avocadoes), nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, and whole grains to get the full benefit.

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