Increasing Fiber to Feel Better
You’ve heard of dietary fiber, and you’ve probably heard that you should be eating more of it. Fiber is commonly associated with good digestion and heart health, and adequate consumption of it is important for a variety of other reasons pertaining to health and wellness, too. It’s also true that most Americans aren’t getting enough of it. But what is fiber? And how much is really necessary?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found exclusively in plants, and dietary fiber (i.e. edible fiber) is found in grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes. As the diets of many Americans are largely animal-based and not plant-based, it’s no wonder that most Americans don’t consume enough fiber.
On average, American adults consume about 15 grams of fiber per day. This is severely below the recommendation of 25 grams/day for women aged 19-50 and 38 grams/day for men of the same age group. The recommendation for females aged 9-18 is 26 grams/day, and this category of girls consumes only 12-13 grams/day on average.
It’s obvious we need to increase awareness and alter our dietary habits. If you need a reminder why fiber is important for digestive health and relief of PMS and PMDD symptoms including PMS cramps, we encourage you to read below and learn more about histamine and inflammation, too.
To increase dietary fiber consumption, the easiest action to take is to increase the amount of plant-based foods—in their whole form—in your diet. This means increasing inclusion of the foods listed above and making sure to choose whole fruit over fruit juice, and whole grains over those that are refined (such as brown rice over white rice, and whole grain wheat flour over refined, enriched white flour).
But how will you know if you’re getting enough? If consuming packaged foods, such as canned beans, frozen vegetables, or boxed cereal, you can calculate the amount of fiber you’re getting from a particular food by using the nutrition facts label, which lists grams of dietary fiber per serving. This is a good way to get a feel for how much fiber you might actually be consuming on an average day. If you generally consume fresh produce items and bulk grains and legumes, it may be more difficult to determine your exact intake. One of our favorite sites provides nutrition fact labels on these types of foods (note: the link is set to fruit and fruit juices, you can easily change to other food categories).
When increasing fiber intake, it is important with to also make sure water intake is adequate. Fiber intake without appropriate water intake makes for impaired digestion (and some stomach pain), which contradicts the initial action of increasing roughage in the diet. It may be best to increase intake by adding one or two servings of fiber-rich foods per day—along with some extra water—until you know you’re getting enough.
One more thing: You’ve probably heard of the different types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. There are no specific recommendations for how much of each of these we should eat daily, and most fiber-rich foods contain both anyway. Both types play important roles. Do you best to eat a variety of fiber-rich foods every day.
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Principal Author: Shannon Reive-Schmidt
Last Modified: June 4, 2015