Americans consume only about half as much fiber as recommended. The average intake is a mere 16 grams daily, yet experts tell us that men and women should aim for 38 and 25 grams per day respectively. Getting the right amount – and the right types – of fiber can help you stay regular in the bathroom, control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, optimally feed your gut bacteria and probably even help you prevent chronic diseases.
But not all fibers are the same. Just like we need a variety of vitamins, we need different types of fibers. And just like different vitamins have different jobs, different fibers do too. Many people have heard of soluble and insoluble fibers, but these are only a description of how the fiber behaves in water. It doesn’t tell us what the fiber does in the body. Here are just a few of many examples.
- Beta-glucan is a viscous fiber in oats and barley that sweeps cholesterol from the digestive tract before it reaches your bloodstream. It also helps improve insulin resistance and manage blood sugar levels. And beta-glucan is fermented by the good gut bacteria, helping them to thrive.
- Other foods with fibers that feed your gut bacteria include asparagus, onions, leeks, garlic, wheat and soybeans.
- Viscous fibers from legumes – dry beans, peas and lentils – also improves blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
- Psyllium, which is frequently consumed as a fiber supplement, also helps lower cholesterol.
- Wheat bran and fiber from many fruits and vegetables add bulk to the stool and speed up passage of the stool.
You may not be getting enough fiber or enough variety of fibers, but a few simple changes can make a big difference. Pick one thing to work on from the list below. Then pick another and another. If you’re consistent over time, you’ll meet your fiber goal. Add fiber gradually and drink plenty of water to avoid gas, bloating and discomfort.
7 Ways to Get More Fiber
- Eat fruits and/or vegetables every time you eat. All fruits and vegetables give us fiber.
- Choose popcorn over other crunchy snacks. A 5-cup serving of popcorn boasts 3 grams of fiber for 130 calories. For the same amount of calories, 1 ounce of pretzels provides less than a gram of fiber.
- Eat legumes at least a few times each week. Depending on the variety, a cup serves up about 8 to 15 grams of fiber.
- Enjoy all types of whole grains. Go for oats, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, farro and more.
- Choose barley over rice now and then. There’s no need to give up rice (it’s quite wholesome), but it’s relatively low in fiber with just 1.3 grams per ½-cup brown rice. Barley provides more than twice as much and makes a suitable substitute in casseroles, stuffed peppers and other favorite recipes.
- Read labels on crackers, breads and cereals. This is not a perfect guideline but try to find products with at least 1 gram of fiber for every 50 calories.
- Fill in with fiber-fortified foods if necessary. You’ll find cereal bars, bread, and other foods fortified with inulin and other added fibers.
By Jill Weisenberger MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND
PDF Handout: Double Up Fiber Handout
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.