Fiber is one of the most important nutrients for your body, yet most Americans do not meet the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA). In fact, dietary fiber is so important, that the most recent 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans list it as “one of the nutrients of public health concern because low intakes are associated with health concerns.” A national survey found that the average dietary fiber intake for all individuals 2 years and older was 16 grams per day, with males averaging 18 grams per day and females averaging 15 grams per day. This is certainly something to talk about considering the RDA for women 19 years and older is 25 grams of fiber per day and the RDA for men 19 years and older is 38 grams of fiber per day.
Fiber has countless health benefits including: reducing blood sugar, total cholesterol, heart disease risk, colon cancer risk, managing diverticular disease, ensuring transit within the gastrointestinal tract, and managing loose bowels. Additionally, fiber aids in keeping you full after meals and snacks, which is particularly helpful for those trying to manage their weight. So if you need a reason to increase your fiber intake, you just got a nice long list.
Fiber comes in two different forms: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, helping food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. It is found in foods such as wheat bran, whole-grain flour, potatoes with the skin, root vegetables, cauliflower, dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, nuts, seeds, and beans. So, if you are feeling bloated, backed up, and constipated reach for insoluble fiber foods. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, attracts water and turns to a gel-like substance during digestion. This in turn helps slow down transit in the gastrointestinal tract. So, if you feel you are visiting the bathroom more often than you would like, reach for the following foods: oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, flaxseeds, carrots, apples, strawberries, apricots, psyllium (fiber supplements), and citrus fruits.
While insoluble and soluble fiber can easily be obtained through food sources, several people take a supplement in the form of a pill, chewable tablet, capsule, or powder. Popular products such as Metamucil, Benefiber, FiberCon, and Citrucel do contain fiber, however they also contain additives, dyes, and synthesized forms of chemicals. Therefore, if you are unable to meet your RDA of fiber with food and need to head the supplement route, be sure to check the label to ensure you are getting the least processed product.
By eating a diet rich in whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes you will ensure to meet your insoluble and soluble fiber needs while also reaping the many benefits this nutrient has to offer. So, if you are not part of the fiber tribe yet, consider becoming a member. Your body (and bowels) will thank you later.