The USDA recommends between 25–38g of dietary fiber daily. Adult women need less: approximately 25g, whereas men need approximately 38g. The average amount of fiber in American diets is between 9–14g.

Children need less fiber than adults. To figure out how much, simply take the child’s age and add 5.  For example, an 11-year old child requires about 16 grams of fiber daily to ensure healthy digestion. This method provides any parent with an easy and helpful way to help figure out what to feed the little ones.

Having a high fiber intake can promote better digestion throughout the body and can have other benefits like lowering cholesterol. Fiber is essential to remove bile acids and decrease intestinal absorption of fatty acids. Studies have found that high fiber foods also decrease the tendency of the blood to clot.  This alone reduces the risk of a heart attack.  So what exactly is fiber and how does our body interact with it?

What are they?
The fiber found in food includes both polysaccharides and lignin which are resistant to the digestive enzymes in our bodies.  Both are composed of the structural components of plant cell walls, mainly cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin and lignin.

There are two types of dietary fiber.  One type of fiber is water soluble (dissolves in the presence of water) and the other is water insoluble.  The first type of fiber, soluble fiber, includes vegetables, gums and pectins actually helps lower cholesterol and helps manage a healthy blood glucose level.

Water-insoluble fiber breaks down less in the body than water-soluble fiber does.  Insoluble fiber is known to help with intestinal disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and diverticulitis.  It also reduces the amount of time food sits in the bowels and promotes more frequent and regular bowel movements.

High fiber foods can greatly impact and improve digestive health.  Knowing how they work in our bodies is the first key step in knowing how to implement higher amounts of fiber into our diet.  Digestive health is important because it promotes metabolism speed and efficiency and affects the amount of energy we have.

What are their benefits?
Fiber in one’s diet greatly affects most stages of digestion in the body.  High fiber foods increase the necessary amount of chewing time which leads to increased amounts of saliva and gastric juice flow.  As a result, the amount of plaque and decay in the mouth are decreased.  Also, high fiber foods help us to feel full sooner resulting in the overall reduction of calorie intake.  One can use this as a tool in weight loss as high fiber foods not only promote less overall calorie intake but better digestive health all around.

The rate of speed at which our stomachs empty along with the rate of digestion and nutrition absorption is also affected by the amount of fiber in one’s diet.  Guar gum and pectins, from high fiber food, increase the viscosity (or thickness) of partially digested food in the stomach. This results in the stomach emptying at a slower rate which helps us to feel full longer.  There are, however, certain fibers that promote a more rapid emptying of the stomach, such as wheat bran.

High fiber foods can be implemented into one’s diet for many valid reasons, with better digestion being the main benefit.  Digestion is often misunderstood as a simple body function but it is actually much more than that.  Poor digestion can affect many aspects of the body including weight gain and low energy levels. It has also been linked to depression.

High fiber food examples
There are many natural sources for both water-soluble and water insoluble fiber. Natural, highly concentrated sources of water-soluble fiber include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Dried Beans
  • Dried Peas
  • Seeds
  • Brown Rice
  • Nuts
  • Oat, Barley and Rice Bran

When it comes to water insoluble fiber, there are also many natural choices to pick from. Common sources for water insoluble fiber include:

  • Wheat
  • Wheat Bran
  • Corn Bran
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit Skins
  • Cereals And Nuts

Some foods have both soluble and insoluble fiber, e.g. dried beans, cereals, vegetables, nuts.

Possible side effects
A high fiber diet is great for digestive and over-all health. However, like all good things, you can have too much of it. One of the first signs that you might have too much fiber is cramping, gas or constipation, which occurs when the body has difficulty breaking down and digesting fiber.

Another possibility that can occur from eating too many high fiber foods is diarrhea. If one’s body is not adjusted to higher fiber levels, too much fiber intake can move food through the body too quickly which results in diarrhea. Reduce your fiber intake, and then slowly build it back up, keeping careful watch on your body.

In extreme cases, the fiber can bind itself to other foods, which prevents them from being absorbed by the body. This is called malabsorption.

To avoid all these side effects, it’s best to gradually increase the amount of fiber you consume, until you are at the recommended daily level. Remember that every body is different so if the recommended daily level of fiber is causing discomfort, simply reduce it.

High fiber foods are greatly beneficial to one’s health.  According to the USDA, and most nutritionalists, we don’t eat enough fiber daily. The USDA recommends between 25 – 38 g of dietary fiber daily. The average amount of fiber in American diets is between 9 – 14 g.

Fiber is essential to digestive health, but it also impacts other diseases and conditions, such as heart diseases, diabetes, stroke, irritable bowel syndrome, cholesterol levels, osteoporosis and cancer. Digestive health is also key to energy levels and the healthy functioning of your metabolism.

Including high fiber foods in your diet is critical.  To avoid any unpleasant side effects of suddenly increasing fiber, try to raise it slowly to the recommended level. Remember that every body functions a little differently, so listen to your body to figure out what works best for you.