While many of us know that fiber is an important part of our diet, not many of us understand the magnitude of the benefit of fiber intake for our overall health. Diets high in fiber have been linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, reduction in onset of diabetes and improvement in blood sugar management, and several benefits to our gastrointestinal heath, such as improving bowel habits, improvement in hemorrhoidal disease, and prevention of diverticular disease. The health benefits from fiber are thought to be due to several factors such as:
- Decreasing intestinal transit time, therefore speeding the passage of foods through the digestive tract
- Increasing the volume of stool bulk, alleviating symptoms of constipation and decreasing the incidence of diverticulitis
- Stimulating the growth of normal gut bacteria, possibly reducing the risk of colorectal cancers.
The average adult should consume between 20 to 35 g of dietary fiber daily, and less than 5% of the US population gets the daily fiber intake through diet alone. Dietary fiber is naturally present in various foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, cereals, and nuts. However the fiber composition and amount varies with each food and its preparation. Thus, getting enough fiber through diet alone is not easy. For example, to reach the recommended daily fiber intake, one would have to eat 9 cups of carrots, 7 apples, or 13 cups of broccoli each day.
“A diet that is rich in fiber is important for yours colon's health and helps in reducing the risk of developing many conditions such diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and hemorrhoidal problems," says Dr. Hamza Guend, MD. "But, it is difficult to attain adequate fiber from foods alone, and most people need fiber supplementation.” Common supplemental fibers include:
- Metamucil (psyllium fiber)- Provides 2.4 g soluble fiber. Available in powder, capsule, and nutritional bars. (Of note, one would need to take 5 capsules to have the same effects as 1 tablespoon of powder).
- Benefiber (wheat dextrin)- Provides 3 g soluble fiber. Available in powder form, and more attractive to some for its lack of consistency and flavor. This fiber supplement may not have the same desired effects as a psyllium fiber supplement, such as contributing to bulk stool formation.
- Citrucel (methylcellulose fiber)- Provides 2 g soluble fiber. Available in powder and capsule form. Helps increase bulk of stool with decreased gas formation, but effectiveness may be altered with inadequate fluid intake.
- Fibercon (calcium polycarbophyl)- Provides 4 g soluble fiber when taking 2 capsules 4 times daily. Available as capsule and works to naturally restore regularity and decrease constipation. If not taken with enough hydration, may have the opposite effect.
If you're not ready to add fiber supplements to your diet, you can just work foods that are high in fiber in to your diet. Here is a list of common foods with fiber the highest fiber content:
- Baked beans, in sauce (8 oz. can): 1 cup has 16 grams of fiber
- Beans, black (cooked): 1 cup has 19 grams of fiber
- Bulgar, soaked (cooked): 1 cup has 9 grams of fiber
- Cereal, All Bran: ½ cup has 10.4 grams of fiber
- Chickpeas (cooked): 1 cup has 10 grams of fiber
- Figs (dried): 3 figs have 10.5 grams of fiber
- Whole Wheat Flour: 1 cup has 14.4 grams of fiber
- Peas (cooked): 1 cup has 13.4 grams of fiber
Here are some additional tips for fiber intake from Jo Schenkel, RD, our dietician at the TriHealth Weight Management Center:
- Aim for 28 g fiber daily. Try to break up the intake into 9 g per meal, plus one high fiber snack 3 times daily.
- Look for foods that have at least 3 g of fiber per serving (5 g per serving would be great!) and include at least 1-2 servings per meal or snack plus additional fruits or vegetables.
- She too, agreed that it is difficult to get enough fiber from food alone, however, be sure to increase fluid intake if using fiber supplements.