Mary Calvagna, MS
Fiber. You know you need to eat it. You are pretty sure it is good for you. But what is fiber,
really? And why is it good for you?
Fiber is found only in plants. It is from the plant cells, particularly the cell walls. The plant fiber that we eat is called dietary fiber. It is unique from other components of the plant because humans lack the enzymes necessary to digest it.
Dietary fiber is made up of two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble means that when the fiber is mixed with a liquid, it forms a gel-like solution. Insoluble fiber does not mix with liquid and passes through the digestive tract largely intact. Both types of fiber help maintain bowel regularity.
Diets high in fiber have been associated with reduced risk of death due to cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke), cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
When eaten as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol and may help lower your risk cardiovascular disease. Examples of foods high in soluble fiber include oatmeal, beans, peas, and citrus fruits.
Insoluble fiber is important for normal digestive health. Insoluble fiber speeds up movement through the small intestine and helps to alleviate
constipation. Foods that are high in insoluble fiber include apple skin, wheat cereal, whole-wheat breads, and carrots.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that women consume 25 grams of fiber daily, while men consume 38 grams. Fiber needs drop after the age of 50. Women older than 50 should consume 21 grams of fiber daily, and men should consume 30 grams daily. This includes both soluble and insoluble fiber. The following table lists how much fiber you can find in some common foods.
Source: Journal of Family Practice. 2006;9:761-769
It is easier than you think to increase the fiber in your diet. It just takes a little thought and some action. Here are a few ideas to help you get on track to getting your daily recommended amount of fiber.
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Dietitians of Canada
Health Canada Food and Nutrition
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf. Accessed January 14, 2015.
Dietary interventions for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 6, 2015. Accessed January 14, 2015.
Eat 3 or more whole grain foods every day. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WeightManagement/LosingWeight/Eat-3-or-More-Whole-Grain-Foods-Every-Day_UCM_320264_Article.jsp. Updated February 24, 2014. Accessed January 14, 2015.
Fiber. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at:
http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6796&terms=fiber. Updated January 2013. Accessed January 14, 2015.
Shamliyan T, Jacobs D, et al. Are your patients with risk of CVD getting the viscous soluble fiber they need? J Fam Prac. 2006;9:761-769.
3/28/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Park Y, Subar AF, et al.
Dietary fiber intake and mortality in the NIH-AARP diet and health study.
Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(12):1061-1068.
Whole grains and fiber. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Whole-Grains-and-Fiber_UCM_303249_Article.jsp. Updated January 7, 2015. Accessed January 14, 2015.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
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