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How Much Fiber Do We Really Need?

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According to statistics, the average adult consumes roughly 15 grams of fiber each day, yet in order to prevent digestive and intestinal tract related health concerns and avoid constipation, the Institute of Medicine advises the average adult to consume between 25-38g of fiber every day.

It is important to keep in mind that each and every one of us has unique dietary needs. In some cases, those with acute digestive problems such as loose stools, diarrhea, stomach pain, and chronic gas and bloating are sometimes advised to reduce the amount of fiber in their diet temporarily—until the root of the problem is properly addressed by a qualified health practitioner.

There are several types of fiber that function differently and provide us with distinct health benefits, but we can categorize them into two main categories – soluble and insoluble fiber. Both types of fiber are found in varying degrees in fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.

Soluble Fiber helps slows digestion and allows the body to absorb nutrients from food. This type of fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and control blood sugar levels.

–> Foods High in Soluble Fiber Include: Oatmeal, blueberries, cucumbers, beets, quinoa, strawberries, celery, squash, nuts, apples, carrots, flax seeds, chia seeds oranges, apricots, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, hemp seeds, pears, asparagus, sunflower seeds, almonds, lentils

Insoluble Fiber is considered “gut-healthy fiber” because they add bulk to the stool and can help prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber also helps us feel fuller longer and can help cut cravings.

–> Foods High in Insoluble Fiber Include: Whole grains, barley, dark leafy vegetables, kale, spinach, nuts and seeds, oats, flax seeds, broccoli, zucchini, turnip, cabbage, celery, carrots, Brussels sprouts

In order to maintain optimal health and bowel regularity, these are the amounts of fiber we should aim for each day.

CHILDREN:
Children 1-3: 19g
Children 4-8: 25g
Girls 9-13: 26g
Boys 9-13: 31g
Girls 14-19: 26 g
Boys 14-19: 38g

ADULTS:
Women 50 and younger: 26g
Men 50 and younger: 38g
Women 51 and older : 21g
Men 51 and older: 30g

Why Fiber Needs Vary
Both adults and children should aim for 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. In general, men need more fiber than women because their calorie requirements are often higher. An adult woman’s calorie needs may only be 1,800 – 2,000 calories per day, which puts her fiber requirements between 26-28 grams a day. As a person ages, their calorie intake is often lower. Therefore, fiber requirements might decrease as a person gets older, depending on how active they are and their state of health.

Here is an example of what 26 grams of fiber would look like in one day.

1/2  cup rolled oats = 4.5g
1 apple = 3.8g
1/2 cup of blueberries = 2g
3 brazil nuts = 1.2g
1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds = 2g
1 cup of broccoli = 4g
1 medium, raw carrot = 1.7g
2 Tbsp. hemp seeds = 2g
1/2 cup of long grain brown rice = 2g
1/2 cup of green beans = 2g
1 cup of romaine lettuce = 1.5g

To put this in perspective, a high fiber meal plan might look something like the example below. Keep in mind, this is only an example of how to add more fiber to each meal, and does not take into account any other nutritional needs, or foods you might add to the meals.

EXAMPLE OF A HIGH FIBER MEAL PLAN

Breakfast
Rolled oats with blueberries, almond milk and flax seeds
Snack
1 apple with 3 brazil nuts
Lunch
Broccoli salad with shredded carrot and hemp seeds
Dinner
Brown rice with green beans and a leafy green salad
Total: 26 grams of fiber

BENEFITS OF A HIGH FIBER DIET
– Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels
– Promotes weight loss
– Supports good gut bacteria
– Prevents constipation
– Reduces the risk of colon cancer, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and heart disease

Sources:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Fiber-and-Childrens-Diets_UCM_305981_Article.jsp
http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/fiber-how-much-do-you-needhttp://healthyeating.sfgate.com/calculate-much-fiber-one-needs-day-4814.html
http://www.nationalfibercouncil.org/food_chart.shtml
http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-000006000000000000000-w.html
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948