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Improving Your Health with Fiber

This guide provides basic information to help you start increasing dietary fiber in your diet. These are general guidelines that may be tailored to meet your needs. Fiber is an important dietary substance to help support your health. Making changes in your current eating habits will help you eat more healthfully. Most fiber-containing foods are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which offer many health benefits. A registered dietitian can provide in-depth nutrition education to help you develop a personal action plan.

What is fiber?

Fiber is the structural part of plant foods--such as fruits, vegetables, and grains--that our bodies cannot digest or break down. There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber: dissolves in water to form a gummy gel. It can slow down the passage of food from the stomach to the intestine.

  • Examples: dried beans, oats, barley, banana, potatoes, and soft parts of apples and pears

Insoluble fiber: often referred to as "roughage" because it does not dissolve in water. It holds onto water, which helps produce softer, bulkier stools to help regulate bowel movements.

  • Examples: whole bran, whole grain products, nuts, corn, carrots, grapes, berries, and peels of apples and pears

What other things does fiber do?

Research has shown that a diet rich in fiber is associated with many health benefits, including the following:

  1. Lowers cholesterol-Soluble fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol by binding to bile (composed of cholesterol) and taking it out of the body. This may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  2. Better regulates blood sugar levels-A high-fiber meal slows down the digestion of food into the intestines, which may help to keep blood sugars from rising rapidly.
  3. Weight control-A high-fiber diet may help keep you fuller longer, which prevents overeating and hunger between meals.
  4. May prevent intestinal cancer-Insoluble fiber increases the bulk and speed of food moving through the intestinal tract, which reduces time for harmful substances to build up.
  5. Constipation-Constipation can often be relieved by increasing the fiber or roughage in your diet. Fiber works to help regulate bowel movements by pulling water into the colon to produce softer, bulkier stools. This action helps to promote better regularity.

How to read a food label

Food labels are standardized by the U.S. government's National Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). Nutrition labels and an ingredient list are required on most foods, so that you can make the best selection for a healthy lifestyle. Review the food label below. Determine the total amount of fiber in this product or ask your dietitian or health care provider to show you how to read food labels and apply the information to your personal needs. In order for a product to be labeled "high fiber," it must contain 5 grams or more of dietary fiber per serving.

How much fiber should I eat?

The recommendation is to consume about 20-35 grams of total fiber per day, with 10-15 grams from soluble fiber. This can be accomplished by choosing 6 ounces of grains (3 or more ounces from whole grains), 2½ cups of vegetables, and 2 cups of fruit per day (based on a 2,000 calorie/day pattern).

Note: Eating a high-fiber diet may interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of some medications. Speak to your doctor about which medications to take with caution and when to take them. Fiber also binds with certain nutrients and carries them out of the body. To avoid this, aim for the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day. Some studies indicate that up to 50 grams of dietary fiber may help control blood sugars for people with diabetes. When eating a high-fiber diet, be sure to drink at least eight glasses of fluid each day.

Tips for increasing dietary fiber in your diet:

  • Add fiber to your diet slowly. Too much fiber all at once may cause cramping, bloating, and constipation.
  • When adding fiber to your diet, be sure to increase fluids (at least 64 ounces per day) to prevent constipation.
  • Buy bread with 2-4 grams of dietary fiber per slice.
  • Buy cereals with at least 5 grams of dietary fiber per serving. Choose cereals with a whole grain such as whole wheat or whole grain rolled oats.
  • Choose raw fruits and vegetables in place of juice.
  • Choose products that have a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, not enriched flour. Whole wheat flour is a whole grain--wheat flour is not.
  • Try alternative fiber choices such as whole buckwheat, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, and bulgur.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain. Serve it low-fat without butter for a healthier snack choice.
  • Try whole wheat bread and whole wheat pastas.
  • Sprinkle bran in soups, cereals, baked products, spaghetti sauce, ground meat, and casseroles. Bran also mixes well with orange juice.
  • Use dried peas, beans, and legumes in main dishes, salads, or side dishes such as rice or pasta.
  • Eat the skins of raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Add dried fruit to yogurt, cereal, rice, and muffins.
  • Try brown rice and whole grain pastas.
  • Choose crackers with a whole grain listed as the first ingredient. Look for whole grain rye and wheat crackers.

Fiber supplements

Fiber supplements may be an option if you are not able to get enough fiber from your diet. Fiber supplements can be used to normalize both constipation and diarrhea. Check with your doctor before starting any kind of supplement. Read labels for fiber carefully.

  • Drink at least 8 ounces of liquids with your supplement. Taking some fiber supplements without adequate liquids may cause the fiber to swell and may cause choking.
  • Some fiber supplements to consider are Benefiber™ (hydrolyzed guar gum-soluble fiber), Metamucil™ (psyllium), Konsyl™ (psyllium), Citrucel™ (methylcellulose), Fibercon™ (calcium polycarbophil), and Fiberall™ (multiple sources of fiber). Psyllium husk and guar gum are soluble fibers.
  • Consider keeping a food journal and tracking how much fiber you eat in a typical day.
  • Use the fiber content chart in this handout as a guide to meeting your high fiber goal or check with www.NAL.usda.gov/fnic for additional information on the dietary fiber content of food.

Fiber Content of Common Foods

Food Category Food Serving Size Total Fiber (grams) Soluble Fiber (grams)
Starches, Grains, Starchy vegetables
Breads Bagel-whole wheat
Light white/wheat
Pita-whole wheat
Pumpernickel
Whole wheat
Rye
3 1/2 inches
2 slices
7 inches
slice
slice
slice
3
1
4
3
2
2
1
trace
1
1
trace
1
Cereals Bran flakes
Cheerios
Oatmeal
Fiber One
All Bran
Kashi Heart to Heart
3/4 cup
1 1/4 cup
1 cup cooked
1/2 cup
2/3 cup
3/4 cup
5
4
4
14
13
5
trace
1
2
1
1
1
Grains Barley
Brown rice
Pasta-whole wheat
1/2 cup cooked
1/2 cup
1/2 cup cooked
4
2
3
1
trace
1
Legumes and starchy vegetables Garbanzo beans
Kidney beans
Lentils
Potato (with skin)
Potatoes, sweet
Squash (winter)
Green peas, cooked
Lima beans
Corn, cooked
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
1 medium
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
4
6
5
3
4
3
4
7
2
1
3
1
1
2
2
1
3
trace
Nuts and Seeds Almonds
Peanuts
Sunflower seeds
Walnuts
1/4 cup
1/4 cup
1/4 cup
1/4 cup
3
3
3
2
1
1
1
trace
Fruits Apple with skin
Banana
Blueberries
Grapefruit
Orange
Pear with skin
Prunes
Strawberries
1 medium
1 medium
1 cup
1/2 cup
1 medium
1 medium
3
1 cup
3
2
2
1
3
4
2
4
1
1
trace
1
2
2
1
1
Vegetables, non-starchy Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage-green
Carrot
Cauliflower
Green beans
Kale
Spinach
Squash (zucchini)
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
1 cup, fresh
1/2 cup, cooked
1/2 cup, cooked
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
3
4
2
2
1
2
3
2
1
1
2
1
1
trace
1
1
1
1

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 4/7/2010…#14400


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