Most Americans do not meet the recommended daily dietary fiber recommendation of 25 to 30 grams per day. According to a post by UCSF Health, most Americans consume only about 15 grams per day — about half what we should be consuming.
This is troublesome since dietary fiber from real food sources (not supplements) comes with a host of benefits, including reduced risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Given that natural sources of dietary fiber are plants, boosting daily fiber intake in fact means eating more plant foods and whole grain sources.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate that the body cannot digest and use to harvest energy, and it does not contribute to our daily calorie intake. It is found inside plant foods and it is an important part of a balanced meal.
It helps promote a healthy digestive system by aiding the movement of food through the digestive tract and promoting a healthy microbial environment in the gut; it is food for good bacteria.
A diet high in fiber is associated with reduced risk for diabetes and prediabetes. The fiber helps to slow down the uptake of sugar from food into the bloodstream, thereby regulating blood sugar levels.
It is important to realize that if one does not normally consume a diet high in fiber, adding lots of it suddenly can lead to undesirable symptoms like bloating and excess gas. It is better to slowly increase one’s intake to prevent such unpleasant symptoms.
Types of Fiber
There are two main types of fiber, water soluble and water insoluble. Water soluble fiber offers health benefits beyond the GI tract since it lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels in the blood; the bad cholesterol.
Insoluble fiber intake, therefore, is important to promoting a healthy cardiovascular system and lowering the likelihood of high blood pressure and heart disease. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, apples, avocados, beans, nuts and berries.
Insoluble fiber offers health benefits that pertain mainly to the GI tract, it promotes healthy bowel movements and helps prevent constipation. It adds bulk size to the stool and makes it easier to pass.
Good sources of insoluble fiber include most vegetables including green leafy vegetables, root vegetable skins, celery, whole wheat, and brown rice. It is important to note that most plant foods, when eaten whole, provide a good amount of both types.
How to Increase Fiber Intake
The best way to increase daily fiber intake is to eat more whole plant foods and less processed foods. Registered dietitians Diane Quagliani and Patricia Felt-Gunderson (2015) mention that mistakenly believing that foods labeled as “whole grain” or “made from whole grains” can mislead consumers into thinking they are consuming enough fiber.
A better option is to focus on getting as much of one’s fiber directly from plant sources and not so much from processed foods. While whole grain options do offer more fiber than refined products, these do not compare with natural whole food sources.
Try to make at least half of every meal fruits and vegetables and consider obtaining the protein portion from plant sources from time to time. Many advise making the vegetable the “star of the meal” rather than the protein source.
If increasing your intake is difficult simply because you don’t know how to prepare meals rich in fiber, consider acquiring this knowledge through reputable cookbooks, recipes, and consult a nutrition expert to help get you started.
- UCSF Health. (2020, October 06). Increasing Fiber Intake. Retrieved from https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/increasing-fiber-intake
- Quagliani, D., & Felt-Gunderson, P. (2015, April). Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap: Communication Strategies From a Food and Fiber Summit. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30202317/