How Much Fiber You Need In a Day (and the Best Foods to Get it From)

As a whole, we worry a lot about getting enough vitamins, minerals, and nutrition — as we should. Deficiencies in vitamin D, calcium, and B12 can have devastating consequences.

But there’s one nutrient you might not be worried about enough: fiber.

Most of us don’t get enough of it. Whether that’s because we unintentionally avoid foods that contain large amounts of it or we just don’t know how much we’re supposed to be eating, continuing down that path could spell out misery and danger for the future of your mental and physical health.

Here’s how much fiber you actually need every day — and the best foods to eat to get more.

Why you need fiber

Weight scale

Weight scale | Ensuria/Getty Images

Most Americans aren’t getting the amount of fiber they need to stay healthy. While there are a few possible reasons for this, it’s important to learn how it can benefit you in significant ways before you start adding it to your diet daily.

Weight control. Do you feel hungry an hour after you finish eating? Fiber — or a lack of it — could be the problem. Foods containing fiber digest slower than other foods, and thus give you the sensation of feeling full not long after a meal or snack.

Lower cholesterol and blood sugar. Those with high cholesterol or at risk for developing it can benefit from a diet consisting of a healthy amount of fiber. Those with diabetes or who have a hard time controlling their blood sugar levels should also make sure they’re eating plenty of the nutrient.

Healthy digestion. People who get enough fiber tend to experience fewer digestive issues such as constipation. Fiber helps move things through the digestive tract at a healthy pace, and can prevent related complications.

How much fiber you need in a day

How much fiber you technically need per day depends on your gender and age. But there are a few guidelines you can follow to increase your intake to a healthier level. In general, you should try to consume:

  • 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume in a day
  • 25 grams of fiber for women between 18 and 50; 21 grams for those over 50
  • 30 to 38 grams of fiber for men.

Can you take a pill to increase your fiber intake? Sure. But many fiber supplements have side effects that real foods usually don’t. There’s no proof that they’re harmful, but when you rely on a supplement instead of getting your fiber from food, you miss out on a lot of essential vitamins and minerals. (Yes, you could take more supplements for those, but … why?)

When it comes to nutrition, supplements are fine. But they’re not meant to replace food. It’s not as hard to increase your fiber intake as it might seem.

How to add more fiber to your diet

Oatmeal with bananas

Oatmeal with bananas | minadezhda/iStock/Getty Images

We get fiber from plants. That’s why plant-based diets or those that include plant-based foods are the healthiest ones out there. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with meat, and the occasional snack or dessert won’t hurt. But fiber is essential and beneficial — and it doesn’t come from just fruits and vegetables.

You’ll find fiber in plenty of fruits and veggies, but also in nuts and seeds, beans, and whole grains. Some examples of common high-fiber foods you might already have in your kitchen include:

  • Black and white beans
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Popcorn (preferably air-popped)
  • Oatmeal
  • Pumpkin seeds

Looking at the amount of dietary fiber per serving on your food labels can give you a better idea of whether or not you’re on track with your intake.

If you do decide to increase the amount of fiber you consume in a day, make sure you do it slowly and drink a lot of water in the process. Doing otherwise will throw off your digestive system — the exact thing eating more fiber is supposed to help you avoid.

At first, try eating one additional piece of fruit a day, or replacing one snack food with a high-fiber alternative (e.g., replace pretzels with a handful of nuts).

Taking things slowly will pay off in the long run. Once you have your fiber intake under control, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to make it happen.

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