Increasing Your Fiber Intake
Why Should I Care About Fiber (or healthful eating) Now?
Although a majority of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, are usually diagnosed later in life, the development of these diseases is strongly related to nutrition and lifestyle practices decades before. So, don’t wait until you already have a health issue to start implementing a healthful diet and lifestyle. Start now!
Fiber is one of the many nutrients that contributes to good health and may prevent many digestive and long-term chronic diseases.
Benefits of Fiber Include:
- Fiber may reduce the risk for colon cancer by binding to cancer-causing substances and speed their removal from the body
- Fiber may help prevent hemorrhoids, constipation, and other digestive problems by keeping stool moist and easy to pass
- Fiber may reduce the risk for heart disease by delaying or blocking absorption of cholesterol in addition to lowering blood cholesterol
- Fiber may enhance the ability to maintain a healthy weight by helping you stay full longer between meals. Fiber absorbs water, expands in the large intestine, and slows the movement of food through the intestines
- Fiber may reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes by controlling spikes in blood glucose
- Fiber may reduce the risk of diverticulosis and diverticulitis, conditions caused by trying to pass small, hard stools that increase pressure on the colon wall causing them to bulge outward and create small pockets that can easily become infected
Increasing Fiber Intake:
Consuming enough fiber may be easier than you think. Some good sources of fiber are whole grains, beans, whole fruits (with the skin!), veggies, nuts, and seeds. For example, you can meet your daily fiber needs with 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of veggies and adding in a 1 or 2 sources of whole grains source or beans each day. At first, adding fiber-containing foods may be tough and feel impossible. A good trick is to start slow by adding 1 or 2 of these foods in your day at a time. After eating these new foods become a regular habit, you can repeat this step until eating your daily recommended amount!
Okay, What is My Daily Recommended Amount?
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends 25 grams everyday for women and 38 grams daily for men. The average American only eats about 12 to 18 grams of fiber each day, which is only half of the fiber they need! Although fiber supplements are available, it is more ideal to get your fiber from food. Foods that contain fiber will also have additional nutrients that your body needs to be healthy (think of it like killing two birds with one stone!!)
Ready to get started but don’t unsure how?
Some Possible Tips That May Work for You:
- Select breads and cereals that are made with whole grains, such as wheat, oats, barley, and rye (make sure the label says “whole” before the word grain. More information about selecting whole grain breads below!) Two slices of whole grain bread usually contains 4-6 grams of fiber
- Switch from a low-fiber breakfast cereal to one that has at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. Check the ingredient label!
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of whole ground flaxseed meal into yogurt
- Choose an apple or pear, with the skin left on (most of the fiber is in the skin!!
- Instead of potato chips, try eating a side of carrots or celery sticks
- Eat legumes everyday if possible! Beans, peas, and lentils are excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals! You can add them as a side dish, in soups, chili, tacos, scrambled eggs, rice and much much more! The possibilities are endless!!
- Distribute fiber throughout the entire day. Eating all of your fiber in one meal will only allow the fiber to act on the food you eat then and not on the food you eat hours later. For the best regulation of blood sugars, distribute fiber throughout the day
Increase Intake of Some High Fiber Foods Including:
- Beans and Lentils
- Whole grain products!! Some Examples: Oat bran, Oatmeal, Rice bran, and Barley, Wheat, Rye, Brown Rice
- Fruits (especially those with skin!!!)
- Fiber-rich veggies: cabbage, beets, carrots, brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower, potatoes (with the skin!!), artichokes, onions, and garlic
- Throw frozen strawberries and handful of greens (spinach, kale) along with a banana into a smoothie
- Instead of pairing your eggs with hash browns and toast, try adding a side of black beans and salsa
- Cook up a big batch of steel-cut oats over the weekend and reheat some each morning with some chopped apple
Lunch and Dinner Ideas:
- Seek out bean based soups
- Look for healthy prepared salads at the grocery stores that use whole grains, such as barley, and layer them over a base of mixed greens
- Start out dinner with a raw veggie salad
- Try preparing legumes and beans for a side dish
Eat a veggie with every meal!
- Pack a small bag of nuts, including almond, pistachios, walnuts or seeds such as pumpkin seeds
- Try making black bean dip to have on hand for tortilla chips and raw veggies
- Eat a piece of fruit, like an apple, orange, or banana
- Add fruits, oats, flaxseed, etc. to plain yogurt
Shopping For Whole Grains:
I mentioned above that one good source of fiber is whole grains. Whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This gives grains a finer texture and improves the shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins (choose my plate). Refined grains include white flours, sugar, soda, chips, and processed cereals. Most Americans do not consistently choose whole grains over refined grains products.
Shopping for whole grain products can actually be pretty tricky. These days, there are so many varieties of rice, breads, cereals, and other grains products to choose from and some have more nutrients and fiber than others.
In order to get the most nutrient and fiber from your bread, try choosing 100% whole-wheat varieties! Not multigrain, not white bread, or whatever else is on the shelves these days.
The trick when selecting bread is checking the ingredients list and looking for the word “whole” before the word wheat or grain.
CAUTION WHEN INCREASING YOUR FIBER INTAKE:
When adding more fiber into your diet, it is important to increase your fluid intake as well. Fiber binds to water and helps soften stools. Not drinking enough water with a higher-fiber diet may cause constipation. Yikes… Nobody wants that.
It’s also important to mention that eating large amounts of fiber doesn’t always mean better!
Excessive fiber can cause gas, bloating, and constipation, or even dehydration. Additionally, fiber binds certain vitamin, minerals, and other nutrients in the gut; therefore, too much fiber can cause issues due to reduced absorption of these nutrients. As of now, there is not a specific amount that is considered “too high” for everybody, however, most Americans find it hard to tolerate more than 50 grams of fiber each day. What is too much fiber for one person may not be too much fiber for another person. Start by trying to increase your intake to the recommended amount listed above. If you are able to tolerate this amount and plan to increase, do it slowly!
Still Feeling Overwhelmed or Unsure How To Start?
If you are currently thinking of incorporating more fiber into your diet or adopting a more healthful diet and want more help seek out a Registered Dietitian. They will be able to provide you with a variety of resources and plans that are more individualized to you.
Thompson, Janice, and Melinda Manore. The Science of Nutrition. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2008. 473-479. Print.
Adrien Paczosa is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian practicing in Austin, Texas and the surrounding counties.
She is the owner and founder of I Live Well Nutrition her Dietitian practice which started in 2007 and serves clients in the Austin, Texas area in two locations. Fearless Practitioners, the division of her business that offers training to dietitians and wellness professionals.