Fiber: Needs, benefits and how to get more

If someone asked you how much fiber you get in each day – or how much you’re supposed to get –would you know the answer? You probably know that fiber is important for your health, but if you’re like most Americans, you’re probably not getting enough. In my work with clients, I find that many don’t know which foods contain fiber. Others have a narrow, misguided understanding of fiber sources they absorbed over the years through food marketing claims. These clients often choose highly processed and unhealthy foods that emphasize fiber content on their packaging. So, how much fiber do we really need, and what’s the best way to get that fiber in our diets? 

How much and why?

Most people associate fiber with improved digestion and “regularity,” but it can also offer many other health benefits. It can improve your immune system, make you feel fuller longer, improve mineral absorption from foods, and enhance your body’s insulin response by slowing carbohydrate digestion. 

Because of these benefits, most nutritional professionals will recommend 25-35 grams of fiber each day for most adults. Yet, it’s been estimated over and again that Americans are getting far below that target, eating 15 grams or less. If you’re tracking your nutrition on myPlan, you’ll be able to see your average grams per day simply by logging your food. You can also estimate your fiber with this simple guide that roughly averages fiber content per serving of various foods:

  • 1/2 cup vegetables, 1-3 grams
  • 1 serving of fruit: 1-5 grams (skin included for most fruits)
  • 1 oz nuts & seeds: 1-4 grams
  • 1/2 cup legumes: 3-8 grams

How-to tips for more fiber

Now that you know why you need fiber and how much to shoot for, consider these strategies to help increase your daily intake.

Give Beans a Chance. One half cup can give you almost a third of your recommended daily intake! Add a serving of beans a few times each week to your meals to help boost your fiber intake. Consider including black beans in your morning eggs or chicken breast at night, add hummus to your lunch salad, or use it as a dip for a raw vegetable snack. 

Consider a California Mix. Broccoli, carrots and cauliflower happen to be some of the most fiber-rich vegetables out there. Buy them frozen, and add them to your meals or homemade soups. Alternatively, buy fresh, and eat them raw as a snack. Spinach, asparagus and tomatoes are also fiber rich and can easily be added to a variety of recipes to help supplement your daily fiber.

Eat the Peel. Fiber is concentrated in the skins of apples, potatoes and pears. Get the full benefit by eating the whole food. 

Flax it. We talked about the benefits of using flaxseed as a way to supplement your healthy fat intake, but 1 tablespoon can give you 3 grams of fiber as well! Sprinkle a tablespoon or two each day into your protein shake or over your salads and other foods.

Skip the Cereal Aisle. Food marketing makes it easy to choose foods that gloat about fiber content per serving, but–believe me–the negative health impact of overeating processed foods far outweighs the supplemental fiber they’ve added to the product to make it appear healthy. Not to mention, these food products often use artificial fiber (e.g. inulin) that can cause major digestive issues. If you want a cereal, stick to raw and natural oats from the bulk food section of the grocery store, and pair it with your morning veggie-egg scramble, or add it to your protein shake.

Take it slowly. You might be tempted to maximize fiber’s benefits for satiety and blood sugars, but it’s best not to rush it. If you’re far from the recommended amount of fiber, don’t bump up your intake too quickly! Drastically increasing your fiber intake in a short time period can cause unwanted digestive issues. Be sure to step up your fiber gradually over time, and drink plenty of water (at least 64 ounces a day) as you do.

Supplement. If you follow a lower-carbohydrate diet, it’s possible you’ve reduced your fiber intake. If you’re logging your fiber and having a hard time getting in enough vegetables and fruit to reach the optimal gram intake, consider supplementation. But fair warning: many of the supplemental powders and bars on the market are made from lower quality fiber sources that often cause digestive distress. Many Life Time members love using our fiber supplement, which they tout is effective for them and gentle on their bodies. 

Eat the right type of carbs

To help you steer clear of those highly processed and unhealthy foods that emphasize fiber content on their packaging, aim to consume healthier foods that are natural and high in fiber such as:  

Chia seeds: 2 Tablespoons of Chia Seeds: 120 calories, 10g of carbs, 10g of fiber

Not only is this superfood an amazing source of fiber, it’s also packed with other nutrients, including fatty acids, certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This type of nutrient profile supports energy, digestion and can serve as a natural appetite suppressant.

If you’ve never used chia seeds before, try adding them to your morning protein shake, smoothie bowl or on top of your favorite salad. My favorite way to consume them is as a pudding or overnight-oatmeal-like breakfast: Add ¼ cup of seeds to 1 Cup of coconut milk and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Let it sit overnight in your refrigerator (seeds will gelatinize and turn into a pudding-like texture) and enjoy in the morning by topping it off with some fresh berries.

Steel cut oats: ¼ cup uncooked Steel-Cut Oats: 150 calories, 27g of carbs, 4g of fiber

When it comes to oats or oatmeal, most people have tried quick oats or rolled oats before. A common breakfast in the American household, most instant oatmeal is loaded with sugar and artificial nonsense. If cereal is your jam, I would steer you toward using steel-cut oats, as an option for breakfast or as an addition to your protein shake or protein energy ball. Steel-cut oats (also called Irish or Scotch oats and are naturally gluten-free) are a less processed oat and is higher in fiber. Because of this, the glycemic index or impact to blood sugar is lower while keeping your body fuller longer and keeping your energy up.

Steel-cut oats do take a little longer for preparation (remember they have minimal processing), but they are super simple to use for make-ahead oatmeal in the morning and a go-to in my house for breakfast. They have a chewier texture so they fill you faster, often leaving you consuming less than you normally would. I like to top mine with some fresh fruit and cinnamon plus add a little almond or vanilla extract.

Sweet potato: 1 medium Sweet Potato (3.9 oz): 100 calories, 27g of carbs, 4g of fiber

In addition to being high in fiber, sweet potatoes are rich in many vitamins and minerals and provide excellent levels of beta-carotene (antioxidant), vitamin C and potassium. They are often deemed healthier than regular potatoes due to their lower glycemic index and higher levels of fiber and Vitamin A. These nutrients can help support blood sugar and help reduce oxidative damage and cancer risk.

There’s a variety of ways to prepare sweet potatoes – you can bake, roast, broil and even slow cook them. Most of my clients consume them with just a little bit of butter, but you can add in yummy spices such as nutmeg, ginger or cumin to help improve their flavor profile even further. Serve some cubed sweet potato alongside your breakfast omelet or your other protein and vegetables at meal time or eat it mashed with some cinnamon and butter for dessert.

Black beans: 1/2 cup canned low-sodium black beans: 109 calories, 20g carbs, 8g fiber

Black beans are an excellent source of fiber as one serving of them provides almost one-third of your daily fiber needs along with numerous vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, protein and diseasing fighting antioxidants. 

Their nutrient profile has them linked to helping protect against inflammation, certain cancers and diabetes and improving digestion. Not only are they extremely affordable and versatile, but their fiber content makes them a great energy source while keeping you full for a long time.

Because cooking dried beans can take a long time, most people opt in for a precooked/canned option. Go for organic or in a BPA-free and low-sodium option and consider adding them to your morning eggs, as a side along your chicken breast at meal time or to your favorite chili recipe.

Quinoa: ½ cup of cooked Quinoa: 111 calories, 20g of carbs, 3g of fiber 

Often touted for its protein content (it contains all nine of the essential amino acids), quinoa is also naturally gluten-free, a great source of fiber and is often described as a superfood. It can have an impact on disease prevention, due to its antioxidant and nutrient profile, including high levels of magnesium.

On its own, quinoa can taste sort of plain. But if you add the right spices, it can make for a nice side dish at dinner or be used (similar to chia or steel cut oats) as an oatmeal like option for the mornings. I like adding some butter, pecans and cinnamon to mine. But you can also consider eating it as a base to your salads, stuffed peppers or stir fry.

Spaghetti squash: 1 cup of cooked squash: 40 calories, 10g of carbs, 2.2g of fiber

Spaghetti squash is a favorite in my house. It’s one of those suggestions often offered up in lieu of box pasta (to cut the carbs, but add nutritional value), yet, if you’ve never prepared this vegetable before, you might be hesitant to try. Spaghetti squash is part of a winter squash family that are all great sources B-vitamins, Vitamin C, folic acid, fiber and potassium. Spaghetti squash has the lowest of calories and carbohydrates than any other winter squash and is 35 grams lower in carbohydrate when compared to 1 cup of pasta noodles.

There other several ways to cook spaghetti squash, including baking, boiling, microwaving (cut in half, first) or slow-cooking it. Once tender, simply take a fork to the inner flesh and like magic, it comes out like spaghetti. Serve it up with some homemade tomato sauce and ground beef or turkey and you’ve got a perfect comfort food dinner.

Pumpkin: 1 cup mashed pumpkin: 49 calories, 12g of carb, 3g of fiber 

Not only can one cup of pumpkin can provide a day’s worth of your vitamin A needs, it’s also loaded with other nutrients, including fiber, Vitamin C, potassium and manganese — all of which help your body fight infection and protect your cells from oxidative damage. These essential nutrients also boost the immune system, decrease inflammation and potentially regulate blood sugar.

Pumpkin can be cubed and roasted in the oven and served over a salad or with other vegetables at dinner. You can also puree pumpkin and add it to shakes/smoothies or your favorite soup or chili recipe. If you don’t want to prepare the actual squash, purchase canned pumpkin (100% pumpkin) to add to your favorite protein shake in the morning. Check out our Pumpkin Thai curry soup as well!

If you have questions specific questions related to fiber, email our team of registered dietitians and they’d be happy to help you out.  

– Anika Christ, Registered Dietitian and Life Time Weight Loss Director of Digital Programming & Events

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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