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Fiber: How Much Do You Need?

Tips and ideas to get more fiber in your diet.
WebMD Expert Column

You probably know that fiber is important to good health, but how do you know if you are getting enough?

Most Americans don't. The average adult only eats 15 grams of dietary fiber per day.

How much fiber do you need? Women need 25 grams per day and men should get 38 grams per day, according to an Institute of Medicine formula based on getting 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories.

Closing the Fiber Gap

Eating more plant foods – vegetables, beans, fruit, whole grains, and nuts – can help and is one of the major recommendations from the U.S. government's 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

These foods are all naturally rich in nutrients, including fiber, and provide all the health benefits that go along with a fiber-rich diet.

Top sources of fiber are: beans (all kinds), peas, lima beans, soybeans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, artichokes, whole wheat flour, barley, bulgur, cornmeal, bran, raspberries, blackberries, and prunes.

Good sources of fiber include: lettuce, dark leafy greens, broccoli, okra, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, potatoes, corn, snap beans, asparagus, cabbage, whole wheat pasta, popcorn, nuts, raisins, pears, strawberries, oranges, bananas, blueberries, mangoes, and apples.

Avoiding refined grains -- such as white flour, white pasta, and white rice -- and replacing them with whole grains is a great way to boost the amount of fiber in your diet. The Dietary Guidelines recommend at least half your grains be whole grains, but more is better.

Foods are the preferred way to get fiber, because they also provide nutrients your body needs.

Soluble and Insoluble Fiber

Fiber is present in all plant foods in varying amounts.

Most fiber is classified as soluble (meaning that it partially dissolves in water) or insoluble (meaning that it resists digestion and does not dissolve in water).

Soluble fiber is found in beans, peas, lentils, oatmeal, oat bran, nuts, seeds, psyllium, apples, pears, strawberries, and blueberries. Soluble fiber is associated with lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, and a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, barley, couscous, brown rice, bulgur, wheat bran, nuts, seeds, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, celery, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, nuts, grapes, and tomatoes. Grandma called it roughage, and one of the benefits of insoluble fiber is that it helps keep you regular, prevents constipation, and reduces the risk of diverticular disease.

Total fiber intake of both kinds, studies show, can lower risk of coronary disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

Foods high in fiber can also make you feel full longer and curb overeating. High-fiber foods are filling; they require more chewing and stay longer in your stomach, absorbing water, and helping you feel full.

Fiber is also associated with lowering risk of certain cancers such as colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers. Fiber works in concert with other nutrients in a healthy diet to provide the best cancer protection.

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