Fiber isn’t beneficial only for maintaining regular bowel movements. Fiber goes beyond its role of improving regularity, because it also lowers your cholesterol, stabilizes your blood sugar and minimizes problems with pouches forming along your intestinal tract, which is known as diverticular disease. As an added benefit, fiber does all this for zero calories. You need a certain amount of fiber in your daily diet. If you’re not used to it, however, add more fiber slowly to avoid unpleasant effects.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine establishes daily requirements for all nutrients, so that you know what you need to consume. Men need 30 to 38 grams of fiber daily to support a healthy body, according to the Food and Nutrition Board. If you’re female, you should get 21 to 25 grams of fiber each day. If you are pregnant or lactating, this recommendation increases. In these cases, you’ll need 28 to 29 grams of fiber daily.
Doing the Math
The recommendations that the Food and Nutrition Board has set in place may be more or less than what you actually need, depending on your caloric intake. You can calculate your own fiber requirements by using a quick formula. Keep track of your calories for a few days so that you get a feel for how many calories you typically consume. For every 1,000 calories you consume you should be getting 14 grams of fiber, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. As an example, if you normally consume 1,600 calories, then you need 22.5 grams of fiber each day.
Increasing Your Intake
Add a few grams of fiber at a time as you work toward meeting your fiber intake recommendation. Start by adding an additional 5 grams of fiber per day for a couple of weeks, suggests the Michigan Bowel Control Program of the University of Michigan. If the extra fiber doesn’t bother you, then add another 5 grams daily after two weeks. Continue to add daily fiber gradually, as needed, until you’re getting enough. If you increase your fiber intake too quickly, you could experience gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
Where to Get Fiber
Fiber only comes from plant-based foods, which means that eating lean, grilled-chicken breasts won’t give you any fiber. Eating vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, however, does add a lot of fiber to your diet. Brussels sprouts, okra, green peas, turnips and sweet potatoes each contain around 4 to 5 grams of fiber per one-half cup cooked serving. A small pear, apple or orange each offer approximately 3 grams of fiber. Black beans, lentils, navy beans or pinto beans each have 5 to 6.5 fiber grams in a half cup. The same amount of kidney beans has closer to 8 grams. Whole-wheat bread gives you around 1.5 grams of fiber per slice, while high-fiber cereals have as much as 8.5 to 12 grams of fiber per serving. Read the nutrition facts labels to determine the grams of fiber per serving in the foods you enjoy.