Facts about fiber

Do you eat enough fiber? That’s probably not a question you ask yourself, but according to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most Americans meet only half their daily needs.

The fiber formula is 14 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed. For many men, this is 28 to 34 grams of daily fiber, based on 2,000 and 2,400 calories, respectively. Your specific calorie intake can vary depending on your activity levels. But the more calories you consume, the more fiber you need.

However, the average American eats only about 15 to 16 grams of fiber every day. Why is it so hard to get enough daily fiber?

“The simple answer is that many people don’t follow a basic healthy diet,” says Dr. Maryam Farvid, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “High fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. But many people still follow diets that favor low-fiber foods.”

Fiber supplements for constipation, not nutritionOver-the-counter fiber supplements come in capsules, powders that you mix with water, and chewable tablets. Common brands include Benefiber, Metamucil, Citrucel, and Konsyl. Combined with adequate fluid intake, these products can help prevent constipation. But supplements do not provide the valuable micronutrients you get from high-fiber foods.

Digestive aid

Fiber’s main job is to make digestion a smooth transaction. Fiber softens and provides bulk to the stool, which makes it pass more easily through the intestines.

But it has other health benefits, too. A high-fiber diet helps keep body weight under control and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Research has found that eating enough fiber is associated with a reduced risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. “Since foods high in fiber usually are good sources of other essential vitamins and minerals, it is possible that part of these fiber foods’ effect on health also comes from these other nutrients,” says Dr. Farvid.

There are two different types of fiber: insoluble (which helps you feel full and encourages regular bowel movements) and soluble (which helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar).

But Dr. Farvid says not to focus on getting adequate amounts of each. “It’s tough to track what kinds of fiber you eat daily, not to mention having to add up grams,” she says. “Since most fiber-rich foods contain both types, it’s best to focus on eating a variety of these foods to ensure you get adequate amounts of both kinds.”

Find your fiber foodsHere are some sources of high-fiber foods. You can find a more complete list at the website for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans at /fiber.
FoodServing sizeGrams
GrainsReady-to-eat cereal, high fiber1/2 cup14
Ready-to-eat cereal, shredded wheat1 cup6.2
Popcorn3 cups5.8
Ready-to-eat cereal, bran flakes3/4 cup5.5
Bulgur, cooked1/2 cup4.1
VegetablesArtichoke, cooked1 cup9.6
Navy beans, cooked1/2 cup9.6
Green peas, cooked1 cup8.8
Lentils, cooked1/2 cup7.8
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cooked1/2 cup6.3
Broccoli, cooked1 cup5.2
FruitsRaspberries1 cup8
Blackberries1 cup7.6
Blueberries, wild1 cup6.2
Pear1 medium5.5
Apple with skin1 medium4.8
Orange1 medium3.7
Nuts, seedsPumpkin seeds, whole1 ounce5.2
Chia seeds1 tablespoon4.1
Almonds1 ounce3.5
Sunflower seeds1 ounce3.1
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019.

Make small changes

Men can get their necessary daily fiber from several food sources: two to four servings of fruit; two to five servings of vegetables, whole grains and legumes; and one to two servings of nuts and seeds, according to Dr. Farvid.

Small changes to your eating habits are an easy way to add fiber. For example, commit to eating beans, lentils, or peas at least three times a week. Switch out regular pasta for versions made from whole wheat, quinoa, chickpeas, or lentils. Replace white rice with whole grains like brown rice or bulgur.

However, make sure you ease into new fiber-eating habits. Your digestive system needs to adapt to increased fiber intake. Too much too soon can lead to gas, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Dr. Farvid suggests adding one extra daily serving of fruit or vegetable to your diet. Monitor how your body reacts for a week, and then if everything is okay, add another serving.

Repeat the process until you reach your daily fiber amount. (Make sure to drink plenty of water each day while you increase fiber.)

Still, you don’t need to overthink it. “Begin with a few fiber foods you enjoy,” says Dr. Farvid. “So, if you are a big blueberry fan, having two servings of them every day is just fine. Then you can gradually add other fruits and vegetables to your diet.”

Focusing on more fiber is also an opportunity to try different foods. (See “Find your fiber foods” for a list of high-fiber choices.) “You can prepare fiber foods any way you choose,” says Dr. Farvid. “You get the same health benefits whether you eat them raw or cooked.”

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24

 “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” – Proverbs 12:25

 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” – Luke 12:25

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

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