Everything you need to know about fiber

Find out why fiber is beneficial, and why it is important to get it in your diet from foods naturally high in fiber.

Fiber does plenty to keep us healthy and when we spend our lives without enough fiber, the results can be uncomfortable. Constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, appendicitis and even colon cancer can await us if we don’t concentrate on eating enough fiber. In addition, fiber can help lower cholesterol, and help us lose weight because when we eat it, we feel fuller longer. It’s also beneficial for helping control diabetes since fiber slows down our digestion and can help keep our blood sugar levels steady.

Another reason fiber is good for us has to do with bacteria. In the human colon there are good bacteria and bad bacteria. Fiber helps maintain levels of good bacteria which feed on a type of fiber we eat (soluble fiber, like in oatmeal and barley). By keeping our good bacteria fed, it can reproduce and crowd out the bad bacteria in the gut. Additionally, when good bacteria eats the soluble fiber we’ve injested, it helps reduce heart disease by recycling cholesterol and producing a medicine-like substance that reduces the amount of cholesterol our body makes.

Fiber is an important part of our everyday diet. The Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) of fiber ranges from 22g to about 34g per day for adults, but most Americans do not get this.

Chart on the amount of fiber in various foods

Food

Grams of Fiber

Raspberries, ½ cup

4 g

Apple, with skin, 1 medium

4.4 g

Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup

6.3 g

Bran Flakes, ¾ cup

5.5 g

Lentils, ½ cup

7.8 g

Broccoli, 1 cup

5.1 g

Carrot, 1 medium, raw

1.7 g

Milk, 1 cup

0 g

Beef Roast, 3 oz

0 g

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

Some food companies have decided to help Americans get more fiber by adding it to food. There are different types of fibers in foods, and there is usually just one type used when added to foods. When you only consume added fiber you are neglecting your body from getting fiber from legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which means you are also missing out on all the amazing, additional, vitamins and minerals that you could be getting from natural fiber sources, such as potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C among others. In addition, foods with added fiber more often contain large amounts of sodium or sugar, which can ultimately contribute to heart disease, among other things. By getting your fiber from natural fiber sources, you also get these other nutrients that help protect against heart disease among other diseases.

If you’d like to increase your fiber intake, be sure not to do too much too fast. Our bodies need time to adjust to increases in fiber, so increase it little by little. Make sure you also drink more water as you add more fiber to your diet. Concentrate on getting your fiber from whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines and Michigan State University Extension suggest accomplishing this by making at least half your daily grains whole grains, and by getting five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. If you do that, you’ll be well on your way to increasing your fiber intake.

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