The American Dietetic Association recommends that women ages 19 to 50 get at least 25 grams of fiber in their daily diets, and men in the same age group get 38 grams. Women age 50 or older are recommended to get 21 grams of fiber, while their male counterparts are encouraged to eat 30 grams. "The average American consumes 13 grams of fiber," Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond, Va, points out. "That's far less than the target."
Constipation and Fiber: A Match Made in Heaven
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, that can be used to treat and prevent constipation. Both types of fiber are essential for keeping your intestinal system running smoothly. Soluble fiber allows more water to remain in your stool, making waste softer, larger, and thus, easier to pass through your intestines. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your fecal material, which hastens its passage through your gut and prevents that constipated feeling.
“People who eat a diet high in fiber are less likely to become constipated,” says Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond, Va.
The best way to get more fiber in your diet is through food. High-fiber foods tend to be loaded with vitamins and minerals and are usually low in fat and calories. Eating a wide variety of foods high in fiber will maximize your intake of many different nutrients.
Foods that contain the most fiber are:
- Fruits: pears, apples, berries, oranges, tangerines
- Vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, squash, potatoes
- Legumes: beans, lentils, peas
- Grains: whole-wheat breads, brown rice, bran, oatmeal
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts
Constipation and Fiber: Create a Routine
Avoid constipation by using these tips to get more fiber in your diet:
- Go half and half. When baking, replace half of the white flour in the recipe with whole-wheat flour.
- Top it off. When eating yogurt, add bran, flax seed, or high-fiber cereal. Top baked potatoes with broccoli or salsa to increase your veggie intake.
- Toss it in. When making a salad, toss in nuts and dried fruit — they'll add both flavor and fiber. Add beans to your favorite soups and stews as well.
- Snack on it. When snacking, cut up carrots and celery for a midday fiber boost. Other high-fiber snacks include popcorn, nuts, and dried fruit.
Fiber is available in pill and powder form at the pharmacy or grocery store. However, it’s best to get your fiber from food sources, says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. If you opt for a fiber supplement, be sure to drink plenty of liquids, as water helps keep your system running smoothly.
When adding fiber to your diet, go slowly so that you don’t experience gas pains. Increasing fiber gradually will give your body time to adjust.
Getting enough fiber will help to ensure that you have healthy bowel habits and prevent constipation. And when you keep your digestive system happy, you'll be much happier, too.