Also known as roughage, fiber is perhaps best known to help people go number two. And while being able to pass a bowel movement is incredibly important (if you’ve ever struggled with this, then you know exactly why it’s a big deal), there is so much more to this impressive nutrient.
Along with helping promote regular bowel movements, dietary fiber aids in maintaining a healthy weight by promoting feelings of fullness and potentially reducing overall calorie intake. It also plays a key role in controlling blood-sugar levels, and certain types of fiber are associated with a lower risk of heart disease due to its ability to reduce levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t consuming the recommended amount of fiber every day, says Mary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, LD, and author of “The Easy Diabetes Cookbook.” And not consuming enough fiber can be linked to some unsavory effects, including constipation, elevated blood sugars, and more.
If you’re wondering how much fiber you should be eating, why fiber is so important, and how to include more fiber in your diet, this article will give you everything you need (and more!).
How Much Fiber You Should Get Per Day
The recommended daily intake of dietary fiber varies based on age and gender. According to the Institute of Medicine, men under 50 should aim for 38 grams of fiber daily, while men over 50 should aim for 30 grams. For women under 50, the recommendation is 25 grams per day, and for women over 50, it’s 21 grams. However, these are general guidelines, and individual needs may vary. It’s always wise to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized dietary advice.
Why Fiber Is So Important
Fiber is a game-changer nutrient in the world of nutrition. It’s the unsung hero of a balanced diet, functioning as the underpinning of optimal digestive health and playing a pivotal role in maintaining overall well-being. Its ability to add bulk to the diet keeps you sated, curbing unnecessary snacking and overeating.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
The soluble variety (found in foods like oats, avocado, and apples) has “beneficial effects on satiety, blood-sugar control, and blood cholesterol management,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, sports and fitness registered dietitian and owner of Kelly Jones Nutrition. “When soluble fiber dissolves in digestive liquids, it forms a gel, causing food to move more slowly through the digestive tract. This can help you feel fuller for longer while slowing the release of energy into the bloodstream, aiding in more stable energy levels as well as a reduced chance of a quick rise and subsequent quick drop in blood sugar.” Additionally, the sticky texture of soluble fiber helps bind to LDL cholesterol (a substance that can build up in the arteries and restrict blood flow), aiding in its excretion from the body. On top of that, soluble fiber is known to support microbiome health as a prebiotic, Jones explains. Reminder: a prebiotic is a type of fiber that acts as fuel for beneficial bacteria living in your gut.
In contrast to soluble fiber, insoluble fiber acts as a natural laxative, enhancing digestive health by adding bulk to the stool and promoting regular bowel movements because it doesn’t dissolve in water. Whole grains, wheat bran, and many nuts are sources of insoluble fiber.
How to Get More Fiber In Your Diet
On average, research shows that most adult Americans consume around 17 grams of fiber per day, which is far less than what’s recommended. But bumping up your fiber intake is simple to do with a little know-how. Fiber is found in many food groups, with some powerhouses being:
- Whole grains
- Beans and lentils
- Fruits (especially if you eat the skin)
- Nuts and seeds
Keep in mind: “If you’re looking to increase your fiber intake, increase gradually,” Phipps says. “Even adding just five grams of fiber per day can impact GI health and blood-sugar balance.” Phipps also shared easy ways to add five grams of fiber (or more) to your daily routine:
- Add one tablespoon of chia seeds to your morning smoothie or oatmeal to add five grams of fiber.
- Have a bowl of raspberries for a snack! One cup of raspberries has six grams of fiber.
- Enjoy some lentil soup. One cup of cooked lentils has 13 grams of fiber.
- Try some roasted chickpeas at snacktime or on top of a salad. A half cup of chickpeas has six grams of fiber.
- Instead of snacking on chips or crackers, try a combo of popcorn and almonds. Popcorn has about one gram of fiber per cup of popped popcorn, and almonds have four grams of fiber in a three-tablespoon serving.
You can also start your morning with a bowl of oatmeal, add extra veggies to your soup, or snack on an apple or a pear with the skin still on to bump up your fiber intake. If you’re looking for some concrete ways to add more fiber to your day, you can also turn to these lists of high-fiber snacks and snacks with fruit.
What Happens If You Eat Too Much Fiber?
A word of caution before adding lots more fiber to your diet: while a high-fiber diet has many advantages, it’s essential to keep in mind that adding too much fiber too quickly can lead to some discomfort. A sudden increase in fiber intake may cause bloating, gas, or stomach cramps. Because of this, increase your fiber intake gradually, and give your body time to adjust.
Also, while consuming more fiber, it’s key to increase your water intake to help your body manage the additional fiber effectively, as doing so helps soften the bulk, ultimately making passing it an easier process on the body. Because soluble fiber dissolves in digestive liquids, if you don’t drink enough water, it could potentially lead to feelings of constipation.