The American Heart Association recommends that most women aim for 25 grams of fiber a day while men aim for more than 30 grams that comes from our natural diet of fresh food and not supplements. On average, adults in the U.S. only get about half the recommended daily amount of fiber at 15 grams per day.
Fiber is found in all plants, including whole fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and legumes. Research shows that high intake of fiber helps with weight loss by producing the sensation of fullness and reducing hunger. Fiber is also associated with lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk for diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer and diverticulitis – a condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the intestines and poor digestion.
Another important benefit of fiber is that it helps with constipation. As fiber blends into water, it adds bulk to stool and softens it, making elimination easier and more frequent. It is much easier to prevent constipation than to treat it. Consider incorporating a variety of fresh foods high in fiber, such as salad greens and other non-starchy vegetables in your diet (see list below) and drink lots of water to flush it all down.
If you are currently constipated, fiber may actually make you feel worse. It may take you a few weeks to get to the right amount of fiber to keep you regular. Although we always advocate increasing fiber in your diet with fresh food, you may use an alternative treatment, such as Miralax until you are no longer constipated. Remember, a single serving of a fiber supplement (such as two teaspoons of Benefiber or an individual packet of Metamucil) only has three grams of fiber. Even if you’re taking it three times a day, you’re getting less than half the recommended daily amount of fiber per day.
Tips about fiber:
- Increase fiber slowly and keep it steady. Adding lots of fiber too quickly and inconsistently can lead to gas and bloating as good bacteria within the colon helps break down the fiber which produces gas as a by-product. For example, if you’re using Benefiber, take two teaspoons with a meal for one week, then increase to two teaspoons daily for one week, and then go up to two teaspoons three times per day.
- Types of fiber supplement. Different solubility of fiber may produce different amounts of gas and may produce varying degrees of effectiveness among individuals. Ex: Benefiber contains soluble fiber which absorbs water and increases bulk in stool. It also dissolves in water when mixed and does not have the gritty sensation when drinking it. It also has been shown to decrease cholesterol and improve blood sugar. Metamucil (and other psyllium husk containing brands) contains insoluble fiber which does not dissolve in water and remains undigested and helps the transit of stool through the colon. This type of fiber can be mixed with water in a drink or can be taken as a supplemental pill (but don’t forget to drink the water with the pills). The effects vary from one person to another making it a trial and error to find the best fiber for you.
- Don’t forget the fluids. Increasing fiber in your diet will only help if you’re drinking enough fluids along with it. Since fiber absorbs high amounts of water, without fluids, it can actually aggravate rather than alleviate constipation. So make sure to drink 100-128 ounces of fluids per day, preferably mostly water.
- Eat a variety of fiber-rich foods. Taking in a variety of food sources ensures you get both types of fiber. Many experts recommend a total dietary fiber intake of 25 to 30 grams per day with about one-fourth (6 to 8 grams per day) coming from soluble fiber. What really matters is not only the amount of fiber that you take in but also the variety of fiber from natural sources. When considering fruits and veggies, remember eating them whole and raw increases the fiber content versus pureeing them or drinking them as juices. Don’t forget that seeds and nuts that can help you feel full from both the fiber and the healthy fat!
Good dietary sources of fiber include:
- Medium artichoke = 10.3 grams
- Blackberries or Raspberries (¼ cup) = 2 grams
- Flax seed (½ ounce) = 4 grams
- Lentils (¼ cup) = 4 grams
- Cauliflower (1 cup steamed) = 10 grams
- Cabbage (1 cup cooked) = 4 grams
- Avocado (¼ medium) = 4.5 g
- Broccoli (1 cup steamed) = 10 grams
- Edamame (½ cup) = 5 grams
- Chard (1 cup cooked) = 4 grams
For those on the GreenLite Medicine weight loss plan, be sure to take us up on the unlimited salad greens and the 3 cups of non-starchy vegetables a day. With all the benefits of fiber, be sure to include a high intake in your diet as part of your weight loss plan.