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What Is Fiber And How Much Should You Get Per Day?

what is fiber

We’re always told that we should be getting more fiber in our diets.

But for many people, it just seems like yet another thing to worry about…

We’re already watching how many calories we eat, how much protein we’re getting, carbs and fats – so why should we concern ourselves with this additional nutritional requirement?

Well, quite simply, fiber is important.

No, eating a bunch of fiber isn’t going to make you look any better – but it likely will make you feel better, and also offers a whole host of other health benefits as well.

In this article, I’ll be covering what fiber is, the different types of dietary fiber, the various benefits of sufficient fiber consumption, and how much you should be shooting for each day.

Let’s get started.

So What Is Fiber, Exactly?

First of all, we should clearly define what dietary fiber is.

Basically, fiber is a type of carbohydrate.

However, unlike other types of carbs, fiber isn’t digestible – which means that your body doesn’t process it like it would sugars or complex carbohydrates.

Now, there are actually 2 distinctly different types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.

Some foods contain primarily soluble fiber, whereas others contain mostly insoluble fiber – but since you want both of these in your diet, let’s take a look at the differences between them and the best sources of each one.

Soluble Fiber

As you might have guessed from the name, the most important thing to recognize about soluble fiber is that it is able to dissolve in water.

It also slows down the movement of food in the digestive tract, and is an important source of fuel for bacteria in the colon (don’t worry, we’re talking about ‘good’ bacteria here).

Here are some foods that contain a decent amount of soluble fiber:

  • Oats
  • Beans and peas
  • Certain fruits (bananas, apples, plums)
  • Certain vegetables (carrots, broccoli)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Nuts (especially almonds)

Insoluble Fiber

Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water.

In addition, it is generally not available as food for gut bacteria – and, as a result, tends to bulk out your stools and increase their weight.

Here are some foods that contain a decent amount of insoluble fiber:

  • Whole grains (brown rice, barley)
  • Certain vegetables (green beans, peas, cauliflower)
  • The skins of some fruits (kiwis, tomatoes, grapes, plums)

The Most Common Benefit Of A High Fiber Diet

Now we’ve long been told that the primary benefit of getting enough fiber is that it is good for keeping us regular.

That is, preventing against constitution and keeping your bowel movements running like clockwork.

I mean, that is how prune juice has been sold to us for years, right?

But how much of this is actually true?

Well, according to the data available, it doesn’t appear to be quite as simple as we’ve been led to believe…

Basically, the reasoning behind why fiber helps prevent against constipation is because it adds water to your stools, and therefore allows them a smoother passageway through your digestive system.

However, this has now been studied at length, and the results are pretty conflicted.

In the end, it seems that some studies do suggest that having adequate fiber helps prevent against constipation, whereas other studies actually show that too much fiber can increase constipation!

Further, it appears that only soluble fiber may be effective at reducing constipation, whereas insoluble fiber has little effect.

So, from the evidence alone, there isn’t enough to support the notion that fiber holistically prevents against constipation.

For some people it does seem to help, for others it doesn’t – and there is some evidence that too much fiber can be as bad as too little in this respect.

So What Other Benefits Are There Then?

So if we can’t count on fiber as the ultimate cure for irregularity, then what are some of the other reasons we should be worrying about it?

As it turns out, there are actually lots of additional benefits to getting a sufficient amount of fiber in your diet, such as:

  • Reduced risk of throat & mouth cancer (read study)
  • Reduced risk of breast cancer (read study)
  • Reduced risk of heart disease (read study)
  • Reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome (read study)
  • Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes (read study)
  • Reduced risk of developing diverticulitis (read study)

In addition, there is some evidence to support that high fiber diets are correlated with increased weight loss.

This is because fiber tends to be more filling, causing people to eat less food than they might on a lower fiber diet.

How Much Fiber Should You Eat Each Day?

So all of this begs the obvious question: how many grams of fiber is the ideal amount to get per day?

Well, according to guidelines put out by the Institute of Medicine, the average male under 50 should be getting 38 grams of fiber per day, whereas the average female under 50 should aim for 25 grams.

If you’re over 50 years of age, the recommended requirement is reduced to 30 grams for men, and 21 grams for women.

Unfortunately, most people don’t get anywhere near this amount of fiber…

This is largely due to diets high in processed foods, which tend to include very little fiber on a per calorie basis.

Therefore, if you want to get enough fiber in your diet to meet these suggested targets, then you should focus on eating foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans.

Still coming up short?

Then I’d recommend taking a daily fiber supplement to make up the difference.

Personally, I like this one from Garden of Life, since it contains a good balance of both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Another option is the increasingly popular Quest Protein Bars. Each one has a whopping 17 grams of soluble fiber, which goes a long way towards helping you hit your targets.

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