We’ve all heard that dietary fiber is essential for our bodies. It helps keep us healthy in a variety of ways and, as such, it’s right up there in terms of importance in our diet with vitamins, minerals, carbs, proteins and fats. Fortunately, It’s usually listed among the nutritional information on our food, so it’s not difficult to determine how

much we are consuming. But why do we need it in the first place? Where do we get it? Let’s break it down.

What is fiber?

Fiber, also referred to as roughage, is the part of foods that our bodies can’t digest. It comes from plants—meats, fish and dairy don’t contain fiber. Because it can’t be digested, fiber moves through our bodies, helping keep our stomach, colon and small intestine clean and clear.

There are two types of fiber. Soluble fiber combines with water to create a gel-like substance, which can help lower your cholesterol. It’s found in oats, barley, fruits and root vegetables. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It passes through our bodies and helps keep the digestive system functioning properly. It is found in significant quantities in whole wheat flour, nuts, beans and vegetables.

What does it do for your body?

Fiber has many health benefits. It can help with weight control, since foods high in fiber tend to make us feel fuller, so we don’t eat as much. Fiber can also help with bowel health, lower cholesterol levels, and help control blood sugar.

How much do you need?

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans has specific recommendations for the amount of dietary fiber we should consume every day, including:

  • Men 19–50: 31–34 grams
  • Men over 50: 28 grams
  • Women 19–50: 25–28 grams
  • Women over 50: 22

People who aren’t getting enough fiber in their diets should add it slowly, as a rapid increase can cause bloating or abdominal pain.

Where can you get it?

To put the daily recommendations in perspective, it helps to know which foods are good sources of fiber, and how much a typical serving contains. Here are a few highlights:

  • 1/3 cup of high fiber bran cereal: 9.1 grams
  • ½ cup canned chickpeas: 8.1 grams
  • 1 medium apple with skin: 4.4 grams
  • 3 cups air-popped popcorn: 3.5 grams
  • ½ cup cooked yellow beans: 9.2 grams
  • 1 cup of broccoli (boiled): 5.1 grams
  • 1 cup of raw raspberries: 8 grams

How to get more

To get more fiber, eat more fruits and vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Try to get some with every meal, but don’t add too much to your system too quickly. Refined foods such as white bread and pasta, sugary cereals and fruit juices don’t have a lot of fiber. If you aren’t sure, check the label, the info you need is likely right there.

What are your favorite sources of fiber? Let us know in the comments below!

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