Fabulous Fiber for Better Health

Written By: Elizabeth Fay, MS, RD, CNSC

Registered Dietitian, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician

 

Let’s talk about the benefits of fabulous fiber! Fiber is an amazingly under recognized nutrient, but what is it? Fiber is a carbohydrate that our bodies cannot digest. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as apples, oatmeal, flaxseeds, nuts and beans. Soluble fiber helps to reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels, by forming a gel-like material in the gut. Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as whole wheat bread, carrots, brown rice, lentils, and barley. Insoluble fiber helps to promote stool bulk, which eases constipation and makes going number two that much easier! We are still learning so much about the wonderful benefits of fiber, but did you know these fun facts about fiber?

  • Fiber helps to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • Fiber can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease
  • Fiber may be associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer
  • Fiber keeps you full longer
  • Fiber intakes has been associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer
  • Fiber increases stool bulk to make going to the bathroom easier
  • Fiber helps to alleviate constipation
  • Fiber is associated with a decreased risk of inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, and appendicitis
  • Fiber produces anti-inflammatory compounds
  • Fiber helps to maintain normal blood sugar levels
  • Higher fiber intakes may promote weight loss or prevent weight gain

 

How much should you eat?

Did you know that both children and adults can benefit from fiber in their diet? Here are the current minimum recommendations for fiber intake for children and adults. Some people may benefit from greater amounts than these recommended intakes. When adding more fiber into your diet, it’s important to take it slow and add more fiber over a few days or weeks and ensure you drink plenty of fluid.

 

Children 1-3 years: 19 grams/day

Children 4-8 years: 25 grams/day

Children 9-13 years: 26-31 grams/day

Adolescents 14-18 years: 26-38 grams/day

Adults 19-50 years: 25-38 grams/day

Adults 51 years and older: 21-30 grams/day

Pregnancy: 28 grams/day

Breastfeeding: 29 grams/day

 

How can you incorporate more fiber into your meals and snacks?

The best way to increase your fiber intake is from the foods your eat, instead of turning to fiber supplements. Check the ingredients list on grain foods, baked goods, and processed foods to see if the words “100% whole grain” or “whole” are listed before the type of grain. These words indicate that a whole grain makes up the product. Unfortunately, other non-whole grains called “enriched” grains can make up the remaining ingredients of foods like bread, crackers, pasta, cookies, and pretzels. Scan the whole ingredient list to see exactly what’s in your food.

Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in fiber. Fiber in fruits and vegetables is found in both the flesh and the skin, so try keeping that peel on your apple or keep the skin on your baked potato to maximize your fiber and nutrient intake. Aim to eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables each day to maximize your fiber intake from whole food sources. Examples of whole food fruits and vegetables include apples instead of apple sauce, and tomatoes and celery instead of vegetable juice.

As for animal-based protein foods, meat, poultry, eggs, and fish, do not contain fiber. However, you can find fiber in other plant-based protein and dairy foods such as nuts and beans. Try adding black beans, edamame, or chickpeas on top of your salad. Spread refried beans or hummus on your sandwich to add fiber and flavor. Foods in the dairy group are similar. Dairy milk and cheese do not contain fiber, but some plant-based dairy alternatives such a soy milk and almond yogurt can provide some fiber, but in small amounts.

 

Here are some examples of different foods and their fiber content:

Food

Serving Size Fiber (grams)
Chia seeds 2 Tablespoons 8
Lentils, cooked ½ cup 7.8
Refried beans, canned ½ cup 6.1
Pear 1 medium 5.5
Apple, Gala 1 medium 4
Carrots, raw 1 cup chopped 3.6
Strawberries, raw 1 cup 3
Prunes 5 prunes 3
Quinoa ½ cup 2.6
Broccoli, raw 1 cup chopped 2.4
Corn flakes cereal 1 cup 1
Italian bread 1-ounce slice 0.6
White rice ½ cup 0.5
Saltine crackers 5 crackers 0
Beef sirloin 3 ounces 0
Fat free milk 1 cup 0

Chicken breast

3 ounces

0

When it comes to choosing high fiber foods, reading the food label can also be an extremely useful tool. Your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can review label-reading tips during your nutrition consultation to help you choose the most fiber-rich foods for you.

 

References:

  1. “Fiber.” NutritionFacts.org, nutritionfacts.org/topics/fiber/.
  2. “Fiber.” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 6 June 2018, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/.
  3. Higdon, Jane, et al. “Fiber.” Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, 2012, lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/fiber.
  4. USDA Food Composition Databases. USDA, ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?home=true.

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