Have you ever been told to get more fiber in your diet but aren’t sure how? You may have noticed dietary fiber listed under total carbohydrate on the Nutrition Facts Label and wondered how it’s different from other carbohydrates. What makes fiber so special?
What is fiber and why do I need it?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that helps keep your digestive system working correctly, lowers the cholesterol level in your body, and can lower your risk for cancer and heart disease. Fiber helps your body to have regular bowel movements so you don’t get constipated. It can also be helpful for some people who have diarrhea or loose stools. Fiber gets digested in a different way than other carbohydrates, so it may not give you as many calories as other types of carbohydrates do and it helps you feel full after eating it.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. If you regularly eat different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you are likely getting each kind of fiber. Both types of fiber are good for you and are associated with health benefits.
What foods have fiber in them?
Almost all plant foods contain some fiber, although some have more than others. Here are some top fiber-containing foods:
- Legumes such as lentils, beans, and peas
- Whole grains such as barley, whole wheat, and brown rice
- Nuts, including almonds, peanuts, and pistachios
- Whole wheat products such as bran flakes, shredded wheat, and other cereals
- Fruits such as apples (with skin), pears (with skin), and bananas
- Berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries
- Vegetables including broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and raw carrots
- Starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes with skin
The list of foods above might sound familiar if you’ve ever been given suggestions for a healthy, balanced diet! Examples of foods that do not contain much fiber include: pizza, white bread, candy, sugary foods and drinks, meat, cheese, and dairy. There are also products out there that have extra fiber added such as Fiber-One® granola bars and Activia® yogurt with fiber. While these 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?
- Teen boys- should get between 25-31 grams of each day
- Teen girls- should get between 25-28 grams of fiber each day
How can you do this? It’s not as hard as you might think! Here is a sample day that would give you more than 30 grams of fiber:
- 1 cup mini shredded wheat cereal with milk
- 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 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 it 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.