How do I know if I’m getting enough fiber?


March 2019
Article by Jill Norstrem, RD, CDE, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator

As a registered dietitian, I help people get started on a path to a healthier lifestyle and improve their eating habits in ways that are doable for them. Fiber plays an important role in our overall health, but consuming the recommended amount can be very challenging.

Today's rapid pace and busy lifestyles prevent many people from getting enough fiber. So that’s why I want to provide some simple strategies that can help you continually work on incorporating more fiber into your diet even in the face of these challenges.

What is fiber?

Fiber is the indigestible part of plants and has an important role in gastrointestinal health, cholesterol and diabetes management, as well as weight loss. Fiber helps to slow absorption of sugar into the blood stream, which prevents blood sugar spikes and extra snacking. Fiber also helps keep the intestines healthy and clean by moving the food you’re digesting along at the right pace.

How much fiber do I need? And how do I know if I’m getting enough?

It’s recommended that you get at least 25 grams of fiber per day in your diet. Reading food labels can help you keep track of how much you’re consuming. When you go to have a meal or snack, aim to choose something that has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Right now, most Americans are not getting enough fiber on a daily basis. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average person consumes only about 14 grams per day. When you don’t get enough fiber, you may experience constipation and/or hemorrhoids, higher cholesterol levels and even increased hunger after just eating.

Which foods have the most fiber in them?

If you’re eating a plant-based food, it will likely have fiber. Fruits and vegetables will give you fiber whether you eat them cooked or raw – but it’s ideal to eat them whole rather than juiced or processed. A few of the vegetables that pack a fiber punch include winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Fruits full of fiber include berries, oranges and other citrus fruits.

Another fiber superstar are legumes: beans, lentils, split peas and even green peas. One serving of these foods (½ cup of them) provides at least 7 grams of fiber.

When selecting grains and starches, choose 100% whole wheat or sprouted wheat breads, brown rice, barley, quinoa and buckwheat or whole wheat noodles. The grains that have been milled or processed the least are the ones with the most fiber.

There are lots of ways to incorporate fiber into recipes – so have fun with it. Add beans to a rice dish – or other kinds of legumes to your favorite salads, soups or pastas. When a recipe calls for flour, substitute a little whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour that you might usually use. And when you’re eating pizza, try loading some additional vegetables onto your slice.

One last tip to keep in mind

When you are trying to increase your fiber, do so over a period of time. This helps alleviate gas, bloating and other uncomfortable side effects that can come from adding in fiber too quickly. Make sure to stay hydrated when increasing fiber as well, which can also reduce some discomfort and health issues that could arise if you don’t.

A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you make these kinds of lifestyle changes and improve your diet. Call 715-268-8000 to make an appointment. We recommend that you call your insurance company to be sure you are covered for these services before making your appointment.

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