There are plenty of health factors to keep in mind during the diet day: calories, carbs, protein, saturated fat, vitamins and minerals, to name a few.
Forgot the fibers? Lots of people do.
“We’ve known it forever and it needs to be rediscovered all the time,” said Joanne Slavin, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “Fiber is a very good medicine. It’s the one thing we want people to eat more of.
For decades, this message has been preached by dietitians, headlined in health magazines, and written on packages of cereals, other foods, and dietary supplements.
Yet studies show that many people in the United States are well below the fiber intake they need. In an alarming example, a 2017 analysis in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that 95% of adults and children are not getting the recommended amount of fiber for good health.
These recommendations vary by age and gender. Slavin said the average is about 28 grams of fiber per day, “and the average intake is only about 14 grams. So for most people, there’s a 14-gram gap.
Fiber is the material in plant-based foods that cannot be broken down and passes through the system undigested. It is mainly found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and cereals.
Why is this important? Count the paths.
Fiber has been shown to help protect against heart disease, diabetes, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, obesity, and colorectal cancer. Fiber can help flush toxins from the body, lower cholesterol, and promote weight loss because it helps people feel fuller while consuming fewer calories.
But when people eat on the go, skimp on fruits and vegetables, and snack on processed foods, “you don’t get a lot of good sources of fiber,” said Albert Einstein College professor Judith Wylie-Rosett. of Medicine in New York. City that specializes in the links between nutrition and disease. “The obesity epidemic is concrete proof that we are not making as much progress as we need.”
There are many ways to incorporate more fiber into our diet. One pitfall, Wylie-Rosett said, is feeling overwhelmed by the challenge and trying to pack too much too fast.
“Some people suddenly decide to increase their fiber intake all at once and experience side effects, like gas and bloating,” she said. “So they stopped doing it.”
Slavin and Wylie-Rosett recommend gradual changes on the way to a more fiber-friendly diet. Here are a few tips:
- Choose breads, pastas, and cereals made with whole grains, as well as brown rice.
- Eat fruits like apples and oranges rather than drinking the juice. Berries with seeds, such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are good sources of fiber, as are avocados.
- Include vegetables with every meal and incorporate vegetables and legumes — especially beans, peas, and lentils — into everyday recipes. Snack on low calorie nuts, fruits and popcorn.
Slavin has been dispensing advice like this for years — and watching people ignore it.
“It’s hard to make fiber exciting,” she said. “As dietitians, we prefer that you eat a good diet and get all the servings of fruits and vegetables. But we also understand that the average person can’t do it. So we have to meet them where they are.
Slavin sees a trend of adding fiber to foods you might not expect, from drinks to snacks to gummies.
“If you’re going to have a cookie, have an oatmeal cookie,” she said. “You don’t need large amounts of fiber to have a real effect. Everyone, even the fast food industry, needs to be part of the solution. There’s plenty of room to get fiber in your diet that you can tolerate, and that’s really important.