Why Is Increased Fiber Important In Older Adults?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 01, 2021
4 min read

You probably know that fiber is an important factor in maintaining a healthy digestive system. When you get enough fiber, your bowel movements are regular and healthy. 

When your diet lacks fiber, you may feel constipated or have other stomach problems. As you get older, your diet needs even more fiber, but how much fiber is enough?

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that doesn’t break down when you digest it. Primarily found in plant-based foods, there are two types of fiber: 

Soluble fiber. This kind of fiber absorbs water during digestion. It provides bulk to your poop, helping it move through your system and pass easily. Soluble fiber is found in:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans, lentils, peas
  • Whole grains
  • Oats

Insoluble fiber. This type of fiber remains unchanged as you digest it. Insoluble fiber also helps your poop contents move naturally through your body. Examples of insoluble fiber include:‌

  • Edible peel on fruits and vegetables
  • Seeds
  • Some vegetables
  • Cornmeal
  • ‌Some cereals
  • ‌Brown rice

As you age, your body naturally tends to carry extra weight. Your digestive system slows down which leads to weight gain over time. Men who are 51 years old or older need 28 grams of fiber each day, and women of the same age need 22.4 grams each day.

Fiber can help improve your digestion and lessen the impact of other health concerns like constipation, high cholesterol levels, and high blood sugar levels.

Most Americans are not getting enough fiber in their diets. As an older adult, fiber is more important in your diet because you may have a slower metabolism, have less muscle mass, and get less physical activity than you used to when you were younger.

Take it slow. If you’re getting far less fiber than you need, don’t try to eat too much at one time. Instead, slowly add more fiber to your diet over a period of a couple of weeks. If you introduce too much fiber at one time, you may experience stomach pain.

Drink more water. Fiber and water are both important to a healthy digestive system. Drinking enough water helps you make sure that fiber is moving through your body, preventing constipation. Without enough water, your poop may build up in your system which can lead to constipation.

Create healthy habits. Getting more fiber doesn’t have to be a chore. Make a list of fiber-rich foods that you love and begin adding them into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

Consider supplements. If you’re still not getting enough fiber, your doctor may suggest fiber supplements. Make sure you read the directions and warnings to avoid side effects like cramping and belly pain.

Grains and Cereals. Aim for including one cup of whole grains at each of your meals. If you eat frequent, smaller meals throughout the day, aim for one-half to three-fourths of a cup at each meal. Tips for adding whole grains into your diet include: 

  • Sprinkle oat bran or wheat germ in your salad, cereal, or yogurt. 
  • Use whole-wheat flour for cooking and baking.
  • Read bread labels and choose one that has more fiber. Generally, whole grain bread has more fiber than white bread.
  • Select cereals that have at least 5 grams of fiber in a serving.
  • Use brown rice instead of white rice, or a mixture of the two. 

Legumes and Beans. Beans pack a lot of fiber into a small package. A half-cup of beans has 7 to 8 grams of fiber per serving. You can include more legumes and beans in your diet by adding garbanzo beans or other beans to your salad. Or you can cut back on meat in your soup and add extra beans instead.

Fruits and Vegetables. Your diet should include at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Keep in mind that fresh fruit has more fiber than canned or preserved fruit. When it’s possible, eat the peel on your fruits and vegetables for extra fiber. Here are some tips for incorporating fruits and vegetables into your diet:

  • Trade dessert for fresh fruit.
  • Stop drinking juice and eat a piece of the fruit instead (oranges, grapes, etc.)
  • If you’re baking, add dried fruit to your cookies and muffins. Raisins are a great example since one cup has 7 grams of fiber. 
  • Add fruit to your cereal.
  • Include more vegetables in your salad

Keep in mind that you want to make getting more insoluble fiber a priority. Your intake of soluble fiber should equal about 6 to 8 grams per day.