Dietary Fiber

Berries can be a good source of dietary fiber.
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Dietary fiber is found in plant-based foods—it comes from the skin, stems, seeds, and leaf structures of plants.Even though our bodies can't digest fiber, it is still an important part of a healthy diet. Fiber can help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. A fiber-rich diet reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes. And, of course, dietary fiber slows digestion and helps produce healthy bowel movements!

Drinking enough water helps fiber do its job. Together, they can really help kids (and adults) who experience constipation.

Fiber can even help if you are trying to lose weight: When digestion slows, blood sugar stays more stable. You feel more full (without a lot of calories), so you don't overeat. This is also how fiber protects against type 2 diabetes and helps people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes manage their condition.

Soluble and Insoluble Dietary Fiber

The fiber found in foods can be water-soluble or insoluble. Most foods with fiber have both, but usually they have more of one kind. Soluble fiber absorbs water to form a gel-like substance. It has specific health benefits: It can attach to cholesterol and remove it from the body via the digestive system, which means a lower risk of heart disease. This is why oatmeal is promoted as a heart-healthy food—it's really good at this cholesterol-removing job.

By absorbing water in your digestive system, soluble fiber contributes to healthy stools that have just the right amount of water (too much, and you get diarrhea; too little, and you're constipated). Good sources of soluble fiber include avocados, black beans and other legumes, oranges, sweet potatoes, asparagus, and edamame.

Insoluble fiber doesn't absorb water, but eating it still helps you feel full, and contributes to good digestive health. You can find it in the skins and seeds of fruits and veggies, as well as in whole grains (such as brown rice). Good sources include cabbage, bell peppers, and popcorn.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?

The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says, "women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should target 38 grams (or 21 and 30 grams daily, respectively, for those over the age of 51)." For kids, the AAND recommends:

  • Ages 1 to 3: 19 grams fiber per day
  • Ages 4 to 8: 24 grams per day
  • Ages 9 to 18 (girls): 26 grams per day
  • Ages 9 to 13 (boys): 31 grams per day
  • Ages 14 to 18 (boys): 38 grams fiber per day

To reach these goals, serve at least two foods with fiber at every meal, and one at snack time. High-fiber foods include:

  • Fruit: raspberries, pears and apples (with skin), strawberries, bananas, oranges, dried figs
  • Vegetables: artichokes, peas, broccoli, corn, Brussels sprouts, potatoes (baked, with skin)
  • Legumes, nuts, and seeds: split peas, lentils, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lima beans, baked beans, sunflower seeds, almonds
  • Grains: Whole-wheat pasta, barley, bran flakes, oat bran, oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice

    Also Known As: Roughage, dietary fibre

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