Many people are advised that dietary fiber is good for them, but not many know what it is, or how much fiber they should be consuming for optimal health. As a result, most Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diets. Fiber intake is essential for healthy bowel function and studies have found that getting your recommended daily allowance reduces the risks of health issues such as cancers, coronary heart disease, diverticulitis, and obesity.
The first researcher to connect a high fiber diet with better health was Dr. Denis Burkitt. While studying rural populations of people in Africa, he noticed that those eating the local produce associated with a regular diet in the region resulted in extremely low incidences of diabetes, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other chronic diseases in comparison to western populations. He concluded that the high amount of fiber being consumed daily was necessary for maintaining good health. The average American only consumes about 14 grams of fiber per day. That’s far less than they should be consuming as part of their regular diet.
Even though we know that fiber is an incredibly important part of maintaining a healthy life, many of us don’t recognize as important. If you’re looking for a great way to improve your health, are suffering from a Gastrointestinal disease, or are simply interested in learning more about dietary fiber — I’ve provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about dietary fiber below.
Answers to common questions about adding fiber to your diet.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes that, unlike other carbs, cannot be broken down into sugar molecules, meaning our bodies can’t digest it. Dietary Fiber helps to slow your body’s breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates, and acts as a natural laxative. It is one of the healthiest nutrients you can put in your body, helping with digestion, weight management, blood-sugar regulation, managing cholesterol, and preventing disease. With some planning, and a little knowledge about a proper diet, you can realistically meet your fiber needs and unlock the benefits that fiber can have for your wellbeing.
How you can benefit from a high-fiber diet?
One of the more commonly known benefits of fiber is that it normalizes bowel movements. It does this by increasing the weight and size of your stool and softening it, allowing it to pass more easily through your digestive tract. Adding this bulk to your stool makes it easier to pass, which decreases your chances of becoming constipated as a result. Conversely, if you have loose, watery stools fiber may help to solidify it because of the bulk that it adds.
If your diet is made up of a lot of whole foods such as vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains, you could easily meet the daily recommended fiber intake.
What is the recommended daily fiber intake?
If you’re wondering how much fiber you should be consuming, you’re not alone. How much fiber should I eat in a day? How much fiber do I really need? These are common questions.
The recommended daily allowance of fiber is around 20 to 40g of fiber daily. If you find your current intake is below 20g, increase your fiber intake slowly, along with fluids to prevent constipation. A quick change from a low-fiber to a high-fiber diet can cause gas, cramps and bloating. It is recommended for an adult’s daily fiber intake to be 21-25g daily for women, and 30-38g for men. If you are currently getting 10-15g of fiber per day, try to increase your daily intake by 2-3g and see how you feel. Continue this for a few days and ramp up your intake until you’re within the recommended range.
Can too much fiber give you increased gas?
A common concern when people are considering a high-fiber diet is whether or not they will suffer from increased gas as a result. While it is true that eating too much fiber too quickly or exceeding your daily recommended allowance of fiber can result in increased flatulence, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation — those ailments can be caused by too much OR too little fiber.
The gas caused by increasing your fiber intake occurs because the bacteria within the colon, unlike the intestine of humans, are capable of digesting fiber to a small extent. The bacteria produce gas as a by-product of their digestion of fiber. Certain bacteria differ in their ability to digest different types of fiber — as a result the different fiber sources you consume may produce varying amounts of gas.
An easy way to prevent uncomfortable intestinal gas and bloating is to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but especially helpful for those of us who have a lot of fiber in our diets. Another way to prevent increased gas and bloating as a result of increased fiber intake is to slowly ramp up your fiber intake as you transition into a diet higher in fiber. This will give your body time to get used to digesting more and more bulky fiber, and you should notice your excessive gas symptoms are no longer a problem.
What is the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber?
Another common question!
Soluble fiber dissolves in water (you guessed it) and takes on a gelatinous form as it moves through the gut. This gelatinous fiber helps to slow digestion so that your body can absorb all the vital nutrients from the foods you eat. It also attaches to cholesterol particles and takes them out of the body, helping to reduce overall cholesterol levels. Some researchers believe that this may play a pretty significant role in helping to lower risk of heart disease. If you’ve ever seen a box of Oatmeal making a “heart healthy” claim, fiber is why. Oatmeal is one of the best food sources for soluble fiber. You can also find it in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. It is also found in psyllium, which is a common fiber supplement.
Soluble fiber also keeps you feeling full without adding many calories to your diet, so it can also help you manage your weight and prevent you from overeating.
Insoluble Fiber doesn’t dissolve in water (you’re batting 2 for 2!), and instead stays in its fibrous form while passing through the digestive tract. It adds bulk to the stool, just like soluble fiber does and helps food to pass through your digestive system more easily. Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, whole grains, as well as the seeds and skins of fruit. Eating a lot of insoluble fiber helps to keep your digestive system working efficiently, by regulating bowel movements. If you ever happen to get constipated, adding some more insoluble fiber to your diet can help get things moving again. Insoluble fiber also helps relieve hemorrhoids, and fecal incontinence (the inability to control your bowel movements) as well.
What is my Recommended Daily Fiber Intake?
How to calculate how much fiber you need:
|According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015)|
|Person||Calories per day||Fiber Intake|
|Sedentary Woman||1,400 – 2,000||19.6 – 28g|
|Moderately Active Woman||1,800 – 2,200||25.2 – 30.8g|
|Active Woman||2,000 – 2,400||28 – 33.6g|
|Sedentary Man||2,000 – 2,600||28 – 36.4g|
|Moderately Active Man||2,400 – 2,800||33.6 – 39.2g|
|Active Man||2,800 – 3,200||39.2 – 44.8g|
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015
- sedentary women need 1,400 to 2,000 calories per day
- moderately active women require 1,800 to 2,200 calories per day
- active women need 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day
- Sedentary men require 2,000 to 2,600 calories
- moderately active men need 2,400 to 2,800 calories
- active men require 2,800 to 3,200 calories per day
- Adults and children should eat 14 grams of fiber for each 1,000 calories they consume.
- if you require 2,000 calories per day for healthy weight maintenance you should consume 28 grams of fiber each day
- if you need 3,000 calories you should eat 42 grams of fiber every day.
- Confused? Try our calculator.
What foods are high in fiber?
Grains, cereals and pasta are great sources of fiber.
|Grains, cereal and pasta||Serving size||Total fiber (grams)*|
|Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked||1 cup||6.3|
|Barley, pearled, cooked||1 cup||6.0|
|Bran flakes||3/4 cup||5.5|
|Oat bran muffin||1 medium||5.2|
|Oatmeal, instant, cooked||1 cup||4.0|
|Popcorn, air-popped||3 cups||3.6|
|Brown rice, cooked||1 cup||3.5|
|Bread, rye||1 slice||1.9|
|Bread, whole-wheat||1 slice||1.9|
How much fiber is in an apple?
An apple with the skin has about 4.4g of fiber. Fruits such as raspberries and pears are also great source of fiber.
|Fruits||Serving size||Total fiber (grams)*|
|Pear, with skin||1 medium||5.5|
|Apple, with skin||1 medium||4.4|
|Strawberries (halves)||1 cup||3.0|
|Figs, dried||2 medium||1.6|
|Raisins||1 ounce (60 raisins)||1.0|
Are nuts high in fiber?
Nuts, seeds and legumes are some of the best sources of dietary fiber.
|Legumes, nuts and seeds||Serving size||Total fiber (grams)*|
|Split peas, boiled||1 cup||16.3|
|Lentils, boiled||1 cup||15.6|
|Black beans, boiled||1 cup||15.0|
|Lima beans, boiled||1 cup||13.2|
|Baked beans, vegetarian, canned, cooked||1 cup||10.4|
|Almonds||1 ounce (23 nuts)||3.5|
|Pistachio nuts||1 ounce (49 nuts)||2.9|
|Pecans||1 ounce (19 halves)||2.7|
What vegetables are high in fiber?
Vegetables such as artichokes and green peas are also great sources for dietary fiber.
|Vegetables||Serving size||Total fiber (grams)*|
|Artichoke, boiled||1 medium||10.3|
|Green peas, boiled||1 cup||8.8|
|Broccoli, boiled||1 cup||5.1|
|Turnip greens, boiled||1 cup||5.0|
|Brussels sprouts, boiled||1 cup||4.1|
|Sweet corn, boiled||1 cup||3.6|
|Potato, with skin, baked||1 small||2.9|
|Tomato paste, canned||1/4 cup||2.7|
|Carrot, raw||1 medium||1.7|
How does fiber help with digestive issues?
Most cases of constipation occur when the colon has absorbed too much water from the food we eat. Fiber helps relieve constipation by acting as a natural laxative that allows more water to remain in the stool. This results in a bulkier stool. One that is much more moist because of the added gelatinous soluble fiber. This allows more stool to pass through the colon. If you are experiencing loose stools, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet can help as well. The added bulk that fiber creates also keeps the stool from being too loose.
But does fiber make you constipated?
Too much of anything is usually a bad thing. The same goes for fiber intake. As long as you are within your recommended daily allowance of fiber, constipation should not be an issue. Just be sure that when you do increase your fiber intake, or make a switch to a high fiber diet that you do so at a pace that is right for you. Try adding 1 or 2 grams of fiber per day for the first few days to get your body used to the higher levels of fiber in your diet.
In addition to increasing your fiber intake to help relieve constipation, make sure that you are staying hydrated. Proper fluid and fiber intake work together in virtuous harmony. The more fiber you eat, the more fluid you will need to consume so make sure to always drink an appropriate amount of water, juice, soups, or other liquids that help the fiber do its job and prevent constipation.
Fiber is a crucial element to incorporate into the diet of people suffering from diverticulitis. Diverticulum are small bulges or pouches that can form anywhere within the digestive system. However, they occur most frequently in the lower colon.
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
Those suffering from diverticulitis usually complain of pain in the lower left side of their abdomen. This pain may be constant and persist for several days. Some people, particularly those of Asian descent, seem to be genetically predisposed to right-sided diverticulitis and may feel the pain on the right side instead of the left. Diverticulitis can also cause a person to feel nausea or cause vomiting. Fever and constipation are also symptoms on top of the abdominal tenderness. Occasionally people with diverticulitis may also suffer from diarrhea.
How does fiber help diverticulitis?
Studies have shown that eating a fiber-rich diet can help control diverticulitis symptoms and reduce any possible complications. People living in Africa and Asia, where high-fiber diets are common, rarely suffer from diverticular disease. Fiber softens and adds bulk to stools, which helps them pass more easily through the colon. This reduces pressure in the digestive tract that can cause irritation and infection of any diverticula that have formed. Fiber-rich foods such as whole grain breads and pastas, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables can help relieve diverticulitis symptoms.
What fiber rich meals help resolve diverticulitis symptoms?
Adding the fiber to your meals can help reduce and sometimes resolve diverticulitis symptoms. Consider adding some of these ingredients to more of your meals to help increase your fiber intake.
- Whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals
- Beans (kidney beans and black beans, for example)
- Fresh fruits (apples, pears, prunes)
- Vegetables (squash, potatoes, peas, spinach)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, about 10 to 15% of the United States population are affected by IBS. Eating more fiber helps reduce the symptoms of constipation and diarrhea associated with IBS by producing soft, bulky stools. Since the body reacts differently to soluble and insoluble fiber, each type performs differently.
Fiber helps to normalize the time it takes for stool to pass through the colon. Where soluble fiber slows things down in the digestive tract, helping to alleviate diarrhea; insoluble fiber can speed things up, helping to relieve constipation.
IBS patients who are suffering from diarrhea should increase their intake of soluble fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers, and carrots, oranges, strawberries, and blueberries can help bulk up your stool and help resolve your symptoms.
If you’re suffering from constipation, you should increase your intake of insoluble fiber-rich foods. Such as broccoli, zucchini, cabbage, and leafy greens. Whole grains high in insoluble fiber can also help. Whole grain wheat bread, bran, brown rice, and rolled oats are great options to help relieve your IBS induced constipation.
Crohn’s Disease is a chronic disease of the intestines characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The area of the intestines that is generally affected by Crohn’s are the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon. Studies have shown that people who have lower amounts of fiber in the diet have a greater chance of getting CD. People looking to prevent contracting Crohn’s or those who have a history of Crohn’s Disease in their family should consider a gradual increase in the amount of fiber they consume as has been found that it is likely helpful in preventing CD.
As with any increase in your dietary fiber intake, it should be done gradually.
Parkinson’s Related Constipation
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that worsens over time. It currently affects nearly one million people in the US. The disease involves the malfunction and death of nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. The amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases as the disease progresses, which leaves the person suffering from Parkinson’s unable to control their movement normally. The intestines also have dopamine cells that degenerate as a result of Parkinson’s disease, resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, abdominal pain and fecal incontinence.
To make matters worse, the medications currently used to treat Parkinson’s disease such as Levodopa, Dopamine Agonists, Selegeline, Amantadine, and anticholinergics can also cause constipation by affecting the natural peristalsis of the intestines. People with Parkinson’s also frequently crave sweets which contributes to the constipation. Their consumption of sweets often replaces high-fiber foods that help soften the stool and speed up peristalsis.
A high fiber diet is crucial for people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease-related constipation. It is an effective treatment to help alleviate it. However, sometimes peristalsis is slowed so greatly by the disease that other therapies may be required. Other therapies can be used to help jump start the intestines natural muscle action and get peristalsis normalized again.
Colon Polyps or Cancer
Colon polyps are small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon. Although they are usually harmless, they occasionally develop into colon cancer. Colon polyps often don’t cause any symptoms, so it’s important to have regular screenings to prevent the development of colon cancer. Eating fiber-rich foods can also help prevent polyps progressing into colon cancer by enlarging the stool and providing bulk which may act to dilute carcinogens, causing them to move through the bowel more quickly.
Fiber intake to manage diabetes
People suffering from diabetes either have high blood glucose (blood sugar) because they cannot produce enough insulin to manage it, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both. If you already have diabetes (T1 or T2) soluble fiber can help keep your condition under control by slowing your body’s breakdown of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar. Fiber also helps you control your blood sugar by slowing down the rate that food empties from your stomach, delaying the blood sugar rise that is typically seen after meals thus preventing excess or exaggerated insulin release.
…but is fiber really that good for me?
Fiber is a life saver, literally. The National Cancer Institute has published many studies which show that those with the highest intake of fiber have a significantly lower risk of dying of any cause. Recently, a study of almost 400,000 participants found that for every 10-gram increase in a participant’s fiber intake, their risk of death dropped by over 12% in men and 15% in women.
Americans need more fiber in their diets – TODAY – http://www.today.com/id/15938650/ns/today-today_health/t/americans-need-more-fiber-their-diets/#.WA5SBJMrLdQ
Fibre In Your Diet: To Help Avoid Many of Our Commonest Diseases – Dr. Dennis Burkitt –https://www.amazon.com/Fibre-Your-Diet-Commonest-Diseases/dp/0906348447
The hot air and cold facts of dietary fibre – Carla S Coffin, MD FRCPC and Eldon A Shaffer, MD FRCPC – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2659900/
Fiber intake of the U.S. population What We Eat in America – NHANES 2009-2010 – https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400530/pdf/DBrief/12_fiber_intake_0910.pdf
Dietary Fiber Fact Sheet – Colorado State University – http://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/foodnut/09333.pdf
DIETARY GUIDELINES 2015-2020 – Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion – https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
Chart of high-fiber foods – Mayo Clinic – http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948
RIGHT-SIDED PERFORATED ASCENDING COLONIC DIVERTICULUM MIMICKING ACUTE APPENDICITIS – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3558287/
Facts About IBS – The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders –http://www.aboutibs.org/facts-about-ibs.html
Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis: A Guide for Parents http://www.ccfa.org/resources/guide-for-parents.html
Parkinson’s Disease Foundation http://www.pdf.org/about_pd
Managing Anticholinergic Side Effects https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC487008/
Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health implications of dietary fiber http://www.waiora.com/media/product_pdf/sfb_ada_and_dietary_fiber.pdf
Dietary fiber intake and mortality in the NIH-AARP diet and health study.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21321288