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Healthy Fiber Basics

Fiber is the general name for material in vegetables, fruits, and grains that our bodies can't digest fully. There are two terms used to describe fiber:

  • Soluble fiber breaks down into a gel in the intestines. As it passes through your GI tract, soluble fiber absorbs water and slows down digestion. Soluble fiber is found in oatmeal, nuts, beans, apples, and blueberries.
  • Insoluble fiber doesn’t really break down in the intestines. It passes through the body mostly intact. Insoluble fiber speeds up digestion -- it causes what experts call "intestinal hurry." Insoluble fiber is in foods like seeds, grains, and the stringy parts or skins of fruits and vegetables.

For general digestive health, it’s important to get plenty of both kinds of fiber.

How Much Healthy Fiber Do You Need?

Experts say that Americans generally get about half of the fiber they need.

  • Most women and adolescent girls should get about 25 grams of total fiber -- soluble and insoluble combined.
  • Women aged 50 and older should get 21 grams.
  • Most men and teenage boys need 38 grams of fiber daily.
  • Men aged 50 and older should get about 30 grams.
  • Children four to eight years old should get 25 grams a day.
  • Toddlers one to three years old should get 19 grams.

Tips to Get More Fiber in Your Diet

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Experts say that you should eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day.

Eat more whole grains. When grains are refined, the fiber is removed. Opt for whole grains when you can. Oatmeal, barley, and brown rice are all good options. You can also add high-fiber bran to many foods, from cereal to meatloaf.

Check the labels. Before you add a food to your shopping cart, check the amount of healthy fiber on the nutrition label. Try to choose items with five grams or more of fiber per serving.

Drink water. If you're adding more healthy fiber to your diet, add more water too, Tappenden says. Without enough water, the extra amounts of some fiber can increase the risk of constipation.

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