Dietary fiber is found mainly in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, peas and other legumes. Putting more fiber in your diet promotes healthy bowel activity. It may also help protect against certain diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Recent research has shown that fiber may play a role in weight loss, as well. High-fiber foods make you feel full and tend to leave less room for those unhealthy snack food choices. High-fiber foods also tend to be less energy dense, so they have fewer calories for the same amount of food volume, which promotes weight loss.
Your body breaks down and absorbs fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Fiber isn't digested or absorbed by your body, but passes through your stomach, small intestine and colon, and out of your body relatively intact.
Learn the Difference Between Soluble and Insoluble FiberFiber is classified as either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance, which slows digestion. Soluble fiber can be found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, as well as fruits and vegetables such as apples, citrus fruits and carrots.
Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk. Foods rich in insoluble fiber are wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains. Many of the plant-based foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, but the amount of each type varies depending on the source of food. That's why it's important to eat a variety of high-fiber foods.
Know How Much You NeedThe Institute of Medicine suggests men 50 years of age and younger should consume 28 grams of fiber a day. Women in that age range should eat 25 grams of fiber per day. Men older than 51 years of age should consume 30 grams. Women older than 51 should eat 21 grams.
Currently, the average American consumes approximately 15 grams of fiber a day, which is well below what is recommended.
Understand LabelingThe more natural fiber sources you choose the better. When reading a food label you should know that "dietary fiber" is the non-digestible plant carbohydrate and lignin. "Added fiber" is the fiber added to food during processing. "Total fiber" is the total amount of dietary fiber plus the added fiber.
According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adding purified dietary fiber to foods is less likely to benefit Americans than changing diets to include more whole foods that are naturally rich in fiber.