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Getting Enough Fiber

Topic Overview

Why is fiber important?

Eating a high-fiber diet is thought to help prevent constipation and its related problems. It may lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and help control blood sugar levels. And it may help with reaching and staying at a healthy weight.

What is the recommended daily amount of fiber?

The daily adequate intake amount for fiber has been calculated by the U.S. Institute of Medicine. Men ages 19 and older should strive for 38 grams a day and women ages 19 and older should aim for 25 grams a day.

Goal for daily fiber intake (grams/1,000 kcal/day)1
Age (years) Women (grams a day) Men (grams a day)
1–3 19 19
4–8 25 25
9–13 26 31
14–18 26 38
19–50 25 38
51 and older 21 30
Pregnant, age 19 and older 28  
Breast-feeding, age 19 and older 29  

How can you get more fiber?

Fiber is in many foods, including beans, peas, other vegetables, fruits, and whole grain products. You can figure out how much fiber is in a food by looking at the nutrition facts label. If a food has fiber, it will be listed under the total carbohydrate on the label. The food label assumes the daily value (DV) of fiber is 25 grams a day (g/day) for a 2,000 calorie diet.

Grams of fiber (estimates) in certain foods2
Food Serving size Dietary fiber (grams)
Beans (navy, pinto, black, kidney, lima, white, great northern), cooked ½ cup 6.2–9.6
100% bran cereal ½ cup 8.8
Split peas, lentils, chickpeas, or cowpeas, cooked ½ cup 5.6–8.1
Pear 1 medium 5.1
Bulgur, cooked ½ cup 4.1
Berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) ½ cup 1.75–4.0
Almonds 1 ounce 3.5
Apple with skin 1 small 3.3
Whole wheat spaghetti, cooked ½ cup 3.1
Brown rice, cooked ½ cup 1.8

Be sure to increase the amount of fiber in your diet slowly so that your stomach can adjust to the change. Adding too much fiber too quickly may cause stomach upset and gas.

Some doctors recommend adding bran to your diet to help boost the fiber content. If you do this, start slowly with 1 teaspoon a day. Gradually increase the amount to several teaspoons a day.

Are there any risks from fiber?

Some people who have diverticulitis avoid nuts, seeds, berries, and popcorn (because of the hulls). They believe that the seeds and nuts may get trapped in the diverticula and cause pain. But there is no evidence that seeds, nuts, and berries cause diverticulitis or make it worse.3

Does fiber help digestion?

If your diet is high enough in fiber, your stools should become softer, larger, and easier to pass.

  • Changing your diet may relieve constipation, but it may not help relieve abdominal (belly) pain.
  • If you don't have any improvement within a week or two, talk to your doctor about your diet.
  • Talk to your doctor if constipation continues or gets worse. Another medical problem or a medicine may be causing constipation.

Drink enough fluids every day to help keep your stool soft. High-fiber diets need enough fluid in the body to work properly.

References

Citations

  1. American Dietetic Association (ADA) (2008). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health implications of dietary fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(10): 1716–1731. Available online: http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8355.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (2012). Nutrient data laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25. Available online: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov.
  3. Davis BR, Matthews JB (2006). Diverticular disease of the colon. In M Wolfe et al., eds., Therapy of Digestive Disorders, 2nd ed., pp. 855–859. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Dietetic Association (ADA) (2008). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health implications of dietary fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(10): 1716–1731. Available online: http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8355.
  • Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Also available online: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2002/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Energy-Carbohydrate-Fiber-Fat-Fatty-Acids-Cholesterol-Protein-and-Amino-Acids.aspx.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised January 25, 2013

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