Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. Since fiber gets digested in a different way than other carbohydrates, it helps you feel full after eating it.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber are good for you and are associated with health benefits. Soluble fiber helps to get rid of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in your body, lowering total cholesterol and reducing your risk for heart disease. Soluble fiber can also improve blood sugar control, lower your risk for cancer, and help to prevent diarrhea by adding bulk to stools. Insoluble fiber helps move food through the digestive system, which prevents you from being constipated. If you regularly eat different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you are likely getting both kinds of fiber.
What foods have fiber in them?
Fiber gives plants their structure, so all foods that come from plants contain some amount of fiber. Here are some top fiber-containing foods:
- Legumes such as lentils, beans, and peas
- Whole grains such as barley, oats, brown rice, and whole wheat products (bread, pasta, crackers)
- Nuts and seeds, including almonds, peanuts, and pistachios
- Whole wheat cereals such as bran flakes, shredded wheat, and other cereals
- Fruits such as apples (with skin), pears (with skin), oranges, and bananas
- Berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries
- Vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrots
- Starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes with skin
The list of foods above might sound familiar if you have ever been given suggestions for a healthy, balanced diet. Examples of foods that do not contain much fiber include: animal products such as meat, fish, cheese, yogurt, and milk, and highly processed foods such as white bread, chips, candy, and sugary foods and drinks. There are also products that have extra fiber added such as Fiber-One® bars and Activia® yogurt with fiber. While these products can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, try to get your fiber mainly from natural plant sources.
How much fiber do I need?
- Young Women
- Age 9-18: should get about 26 grams of fiber each day
- Young Men
- Age 9-13: should get about 31 grams of fiber each day
- Age 14-18: should get about 38 grams of fiber each day
How do I know how much fiber food contains?
You can find the dietary fiber content of foods on nutrition facts labels, under “total carbohydrates”. Any serving of food with over 5g of fiber is considered ‘high fiber’. A few ingredients you may see on a food label’s ingredients list that mean it has added sources of fiber are inulin, psyllium husk, chicory root, guar gum and cellulose.
It’s not as hard as you might think to meet your fiber needs! Here is a sample day that would give you more than 30 grams of fiber:
- 1 cup mini shredded wheat cereal with milk and 1/2 cup blueberries
- 1 oz almonds
- 2 slices of whole grain bread with turkey, lettuce, and tomato, glass of milk
- Apple with peanut butter
- Black bean burrito with brown rice, salsa, and cheese
- Small spinach salad
Will eating fiber-rich foods make me gassy or constipated?
Many foods that are part of a healthy diet such as veggies, fruits and whole grains naturally mix with the bacteria in your stomach to cause a reaction, which makes gas. You can usually avoid this by increasing your fiber intake slowly, over time. If you still find gassiness to be a problem, you can talk to your health care provider about taking an over-the-counter enzyme before meals, such as Beano®. Eating too much fiber too quickly can give you a stomach ache, so make sure to start slow and drink plenty of water.