Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, even though we don’t actually digest it!
It slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, cleans the digestive system and leads to feelings of fullness, feeds our healthy gut bacteria and reduces constipation. Its effects include lowering the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
But we have historically been missing the mark on consuming enough fiber to experience its full benefits. The American Heart Association and numerous other sources report the average American eats 15 grams of fiber per day.
How much do we need?
It can be tricky to figure out how much fiber you should be eating, but 15 grams usually isn’t enough. The recommended amount has varied by gender and age, but the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests everyone eat at least 14 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed in a day.
Eating too much, or increasing your intake too quickly, can create such unwanted side effects as bloating, cramping, constipation. In rare cases, intestinal blockages happen when fiber is consumed without enough fluid, especially with fiber supplements. The dietary guidelines recommend getting all your fiber from food sources.
Here are some easy ways to start gradually adding to your fiber intake:
- Aim for getting some fiber at each meal rather than loading up in one sitting.
- Take one step each week to allow your digestive system to adjust. Switching from refined to whole-grain bread one week and substituting some meat with beans the next is a good example.
- Add fibrous fruits and veggies to your recipes whenever possible, even if they aren’t included in the original.
- When you’re starting out, look for less fiber-dense foods that still have a healthy dose of fiber to contribute — squash, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, popcorn, bananas, almonds and brown rice serve this purpose well.
- Look at the store for food with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving — whole-wheat pasta, lentils and chickpeas, berries, pears, Brussels sprouts, avocados, green peas and broccoli are good examples.