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Fiber Facts

By Brandy Strub, MS, RD/LD, Dietitian, Veterans Memorial Hospital

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods that the body can’t digest and comes in two varieties: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Most high fiber foods have both, so it is best to just focus on overall fiber intake.

Fiber not only keeps bowel movements regular, which helps prevent against diverticular disease, hemorrhoids, and possibly decreases a person’s risk of colorectal cancer, it also helps: 1) control blood sugars by slowing down the absorption of sugar and preventing blood sugar spikes, 2) protect heart health by helping lower cholesterol, 3) aid in weight management by making you feel fuller longer, 4) enhance gut health by feeding the good bacteria in your gut which may lead to better mood, less inflammation, healthier skin, etc.

Most Americans don’t eat enough fiber.  Per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women ages 19-50 should get 25-28gms fiber per day, and men 19-50 should get 31-34gms/day. For women and men over 50, the recommendation for fiber is less: 22gms/day and 28gms/day, respectively.

Plant-based foods are excellent sources of fiber: whole grains(~3-14gms/serving), fruits and veggies(~3-10gms/serving), nuts and seeds (~3-5gms/serving), pulses (e.g., beans, lentils, peas) (~5-8gms/serving). Go to www.dietaryguidelines.gov for specifics regarding food sources of dietary fiber.

People can boost their fiber intake by doing the following:

  • Choose unsalted or lightly salted nuts or seeds, or fruits or veggies with dips/spreads made from pulses, for snacks.
  • Eat the skins of fruits and veggies when possible and choose versus juice.
  • Add pulses to meats, soups, pasta, casseroles, and other main entrees.
  • Top salads with fruits, nuts, seeds, and/or pulses.
  • Choose cereals such as bran flakes, shredded wheat, or oats.
  • Try adding ground flax seeds or chia seeds to oatmeal or yogurt with fruit.
  • Use whole wheat flour for baking and choose whole grain pasta, brown rice, whole grain bread, whole wheat crackers vs. white alternatives.
  • Follow My Plate and make sure to get a whole grain, fruit, and veggie, along with protein and dairy, at each meal.

People should also increase their fiber intake slowly and increase water intake as well to decrease unwanted GI side effects.  Those who eat a low fiber diet because of health reasons and experience constipation should talk to their local health care provider about taking a fiber supplement.

For more information, please contact Brandy Strub, Dietitian at Veterans Memorial Hospital at 563-568-3411.