According to the American Heart Association, the daily value for fiber is 25 grams per day on a 2,000-calorie diet for adults. This number may also depend on age or sex:
- women under 50: 21 to 25 grams per day
- men under 50: 30 to 38 grams per day
Children between ages 1 and 18 should eat 14 to 31 grams of fiber per day, depending on their age and sex. Even higher fiber intakes, seen in countries around the world, may significantly reduce chronic disease risk.
Fiber does digestive grunt work but doesn’t get the same glamour as vitamin D, calcium, and other nutrients. It’s important to get the right amount fiber to keep your digestive system running smoothly. It also provides a lot of health benefits beyond digestion, such as help with weight loss and balancing gut bacteria.
The average American eats only about 16 grams of fiber per day. That’s quite a bit less than the daily recommended intake for a lot of people. Read on to learn more about the benefits of fiber, where to get fiber, symptoms of too much fiber, and more.
Benefits of fiber
As a whole, fiber delivers a lot of health benefits:
- supports weight loss
- reduces cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- lowers risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, heart disease, and more
- prevents diabetes
- increases digestive and bowel health
- fuels healthy gut bacteria
In general, dietary fiber is an umbrella term for the parts of plants and other foods that the body can’t digest. Instead of breaking fiber down, fiber passes through your system and eases symptoms such as constipation. It’s important to eat a wide variety of foods instead of relying on one source for fiber intake.
The best way to get fiber — while not consuming too many calories — is to eat high-fiber foods. Most vegetables, fruits, and plant-based foods have fiber. If your body is slowly adjusting to more fiber, spread out your portions between meals instead of eating a lot in a single serving.
Here are more high-fiber foods to try:
|Fiber-rich foods||Grams per serving size|
|boiled split peas and lentils; black, lima, and baked beans||10-15 g per cup|
|green peas, boiled||8.8 g per cup|
|raspberries||8 g per cup|
|cooked whole wheat spaghetti||6.3 g per cup|
|cooked barley||6 g per cup|
|medium pear with skin||5.5 g per pear|
|medium oat bran muffin||5.2 g per muffin|
|medium apple with skin||4.4 g per apple|
|bran flakes||5.5 g per 3/4 cup|
|cooked instant oatmeal||4 g per cup|
|brown rice||3.5 g per cup|
|boiled Brussel sprouts||4.1 g per cup|
|almonds||3 g per 1 oz. (23 almonds|
|chia seeds||10.6 g per 1 oz. (2 tbsp.)|
Looking for how to get your kids to eat more fiber? Check out these 10 high-fiber foods your kids will actually eat.
Types of fiber
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that comes in three main forms: soluble, insoluble, and fermented fiber.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and slows down digestion. It can help lower the body’s cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and plays a different role in digestion. It adds bulk to our stool and passes through the system more quickly. Basically, it helps keep the pipes working regularly and prevents constipation.
Fermentable fiber can come from both categories, though they’re more often soluble fibers. Fermented fibers help increase the healthy bacteria in the colon.
It’s best to gradually add fiber to the diet. You don’t want to shock your system with too much bulk. “Start low, go slow,” as the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders puts it. Some tips for adding in fiber, but not too much, are:
- Eat whole fruits like pears and apples instead of drinking fruit juices.
- Swap in whole grain varieties instead of white rice, bread, and regular pasta.
- Snack on vegetables instead of pretzels and chips.
- Eat beans and lentils daily.
- Sprinkle chia seeds on cereal, smoothies, or salads.
- Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water when you eat fibrous food.
You may also find it helpful to track the foods you eat and note the fiber content to better understand how much you’re actually eating. Some people struggling to eat enough fiber may want to consider taking a fiber supplement.
That said, too much fiber can also be a bad thing. And your body will speak up (literally and figuratively) with a variety of symptoms if you’re eating too much of it. Fiber supplements have also not shown to be near as beneficial as eating high-fiber foods.
Keep in mind that everyone’s body reacts to fiber a bit differently. Some people with a condition known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) don’t tolerate fiber well.
Too much fiber
Fiber is also known as “bulk” or “roughage,” and it can make some noise as it passes through the stomach and intestines. If you eat more than 70 grams a day, your body will begin to tell you to back off. Here are some signs and symptoms:
- abdominal cramping
There’s one other problem with fiber overload. Fiber can bind to important minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc and prevent your system from absorbing these nutrients.
Cut back on your fiber intake if you experience these symptoms and feel it’s due to your diet, not another condition like the stomach flu that has similar symptoms.
If you experience severe symptoms, talk to your doctor or visit an urgent care center or the hospital. In rare but serious cases, too much fiber can cause an intestinal (bowel) obstruction, which is a blockage that prevents contents from moving through.