The #1 Thing Missing from Your Diet – Dietary Fiber

The numbers are in, 90% of Americans don’t meet their daily dietary fiber needs and many are only getting in half the recommended amount. A diet high in fiber has many health benefits but how can you get more fiber into your meals? We’re sharing all the stats and some simple tips for getting that fiber up.

What is Dietary Fiber?



Fiber is the part of certain foods you eat that your body can’t digest or absorb. It’s often referred to as “roughage” and comes from plant based foods (fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, seeds, beans).

Instead of being broken down or absorbed in the body, it passes through your intestinal tract and out of your body.

There are 2 main types of dietary fiber –

  1. Soluble Fiber
    • dissolves in water
    • found in oats, peas, beans, apples, carrots and barley
  2. Insoluble Fiber
    • doesn’t dissolve in water
    • promotes movement of waste throughout the body
    • increases stool bulk
    • found in whole wheat flour, nuts, beans, vegetables, and bran

Since the two main types are found in a variety of different foods, it’s important to eat a well rounded diet that includes a variety of foods.

The Health Benefits of Fiber

oranges as health benefit of fiber

When talking about prevention and what you can do to reduce your risk for certain chronic diseases, fiber is king!

A high fiber diet can boast the following benefits –

Maintain Healthy Bowels

First and foremost, dietary fiber helps keep things moving in the good old intestinal tract. Which can lead to decreased risk for developing hemorrhoids and diverticular conditions. It can also lead to a lower risk of colon cancer.

  • Fiber in your diet softens and makes stool bulky, which is easier to pass and reduces the risk of constipation
  • Fiber can also absorb water and add bulk to loose stools

According to the American Cancer Society, Colorectal Cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in men and women (excluding skin cancer). While there are many risk factors for developing certain cancers, the American Cancer Society’s Guidelines for Diet include a diet rich in

  • “A variety of vegetables – dark green, red and orange, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), etc
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits, in a variety of colors
  • Whole grains”

Decreases Cholesterol

fiber can decrease cholesterol

High total cholesterol and elevated LDL cholesterol levels can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Consuming a diet rich in soluble fiber may help reduce LDL cholesterol, which thereby reduces total overall cholesterol levels. Once soluble fiber in ingested into the body, it dissolves into a gel like consistency once it hits water. This gel like fiber moves slowly through the body and is thought to “grab” onto fat and cholesterol in the small intestines that otherwise would be absorbed. It’s then excreted.

Better Blood Sugar Control

Fiber can help those that already have diabetes as well as help people from developing Type 2 diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar levels.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, fiber helps regulate the the body’s use and absorption of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugars in check.

Decreased Risk for Heart Disease, Stroke and Diabetes

There are certain risk factors (called Metabolic Syndrome) when combined that can lead to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These risk factors include –

  • increased blood pressure
  • elevated insulin levels
  • increased triglycerides
  • low HDL cholesterol (the “good” form)

Fiber can help decrease all of these risk favors when consumed as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

How Much Fiber Should We Be Eating?

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest the following daily intake when it comes to dietary fiber –

daily fiber goals by age
fiber recommendation from Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The bigger question might be, how much are we actually eating?

The average intake of fiber is currently only about 15 grams, which is about half the recommended amount.

current fiber intake

High Dietary Fiber Foods

So now that we know we probably aren’t getting enough fiber in our daily meals, let’s talk about what we can do to fix that.

Typical Food Groups that Contain Fiber include –

  • Whole Grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans and Legumes
  • Nuts and Seeds

Sound familiar? These are the main focus of the Mediterranean Diet Food Guide Pyramid. Since the Mediterranean diet is a plant based diet, that means it’s also high in dietary fiber.

If you’re still confused by the term “Plant Based”, don’t worry, we’ve got it all covered with “What Exactly Does Eating a Plant Based Diet Mean“.

High Fiber Choices by Category

The USDA has a great, detailed list of the fiber content of many foods. Some of the highest fiber choices in each food group include –

Grains

  • High Fiber Cereal (1/2 cup) = 8-14 grams
  • Spaghetti, whole wheat (1 cup) = 6 grams
  • Quinoa, cooked (1 cup) = 5 grams
  • Bulgur, Cooked (1/2 cup) = 4.1 grams
  • Brown Rice (1 cup) = 3.5 grams
  • Oat Bran (1/2 cup) = 2.9 grams
  • Tortillas, whole wheat (1 oz) = 2.8 grams
  • Bread, whole wheat (1 slice) = 1.9 grams

Vegetables

  • Artichoke, cooked (1 cup) = 9.6 grams
  • Pumpkin, canned (1 cup) = 7.1 grams
  • Brussels sprouts, cooked (1 cup) = 6.4 grams
  • Sweet Potato, cooked (1 cup) = 6.3 grams
  • Broccoli, cooked (1 cup0 = 5.2 grams
  • Avocado (1/2 cup) = 5 grams
  • Collard Greens, cooked (1 cup) = 4.8 grams
  • Spinach, cooked (1 cup) = 4.3 grams
  • Carrots, raw (1 cup) = 3.6 grams

Fruits

  • Guava (1 cup) = 8.9 grams
  • Raspberries (1 cup) = 8 grams
  • Blackberries (1 cup) = 7.6 grams
  • Asian Pear (1 medium) = 6.5 grams
  • Blueberries (1 cup) = 6.2 grams
  • Grapefruit (1) = 5 grams
  • Apple, with skin (1 medium) = 4.8 grams
  • Orange (1 medium) = 3.7 grams

Beans, Peas and Legumes

  • Navy Beans, cooked (1/2 cup) = 9.6 grams
  • Lima Beans, cooked (1 cup) = 9.2 grams
  • Split Peas, cooked (1/2 cup) = 8.2 grams
  • Lentils, cooked (1/2 cup) = 7.8 grams
  • Pinto Beans, cooked (1/2 cup) = 7.7 grams
  • Black Beans, cooked (1/2 cup) = 7.5 grams
  • Chickpeas, cooked (1/2 cup) = 6.3 grams
  • Black-eyed peas, cooked (1/2 cup) = 5.6 grams
  • Soybeans, cooked (1/2 cup) = 5.2 grams

Nuts and Seeds

  • Pumpkin Seeds (1oz) = 5.2 grams
  • Chia Seeds (1 tbsp) = 4.1 grams
  • Almonds (1oz) = 3.5 grams
  • Sunflower Seeds (1oz) = 3.1 grams
  • Pistachios (1oz) = 2.9 grams
  • Flaxseed (1tbsp) = 2.8 grams

Tips for Increasing Fiber in the Diet

So how can you increase the fiber in your meals to meet your recommended requirement?

Let’s start by giving our #1 tip for adding fiber to your diet = START SLOWLY!

As you increase your fiber intake, you also need to increase your water intake. Otherwise, you can really experience gas, bloating and abdominal pain. So slow is the way to go.

Some simple swaps you can make for increasing fiber in your diet –

close up of a purple smoothie topped with frozen blueberries and shredded coconut
  • Use frozen berries to make a fiber filled smoothie that you can take on the go
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    • We are partners with Memore and if you use the code “domesticdietitian” you can receive 30% off your order! Please note we may make a small commission off orders placed using the following link.
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  • Switch to a high fiber breakfast cereal
    • aim for 5 or more grams per serving, but be sure to watch out for added sugars
    • consider increasing the fiber content of your favorite cereal by adding flaxseed, nuts, or chia seeds
  • Replace refined grains with whole grain versions
    • spaghetti/pasta, bread, rice and crackers all come with great tasting whole wheat versions that have much more fiber than their counterparts
  • Add beans and lentils to meals
  • Choose the whole fruit instead of juice
    • The process of making juice in most cases removes the fiber from the fruit. An orange has 3.7 grams of fruit but a glass of orange juice has 0 grams
  • Find a way to include more nuts and seeds into meals
    • Making a Homemade Trail Mix filled with your favorite nuts, seeds and dried fruit is an easy way to create a fiber filled snack
    • Hummus, made from chickpeas, makes a great sandwich spread or fiber containing dip for veggies
    • Add a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds to salads, pistachios to your cheese board, or pine nuts to your pasta

What about Fiber Supplements?

Our motto is always to try and get as much as you can from real food.

Fiber Supplements may provide one type of specific fiber, but real food provides a variety of fiber, vitamins, nutrients and minerals instead of just one specific thing.

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Last modified: September 23, 2021

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