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How Much Fiber Should You Get Every Day and Why?

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How Much Fiber Should You Get Every Day and Why?

Fiber is an often-overlooked part of dieting. How important is it, and what are the best ways to get it?

 

Do you know how much fiber you’re getting every day?

Do you know where it’s coming from?

Is it enough? Should you raise or lower it?

What foods are the best sources of fiber?

These are all questions I get asked fairly regularly, so I thought their answers would make for a good article.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

What is Fiber, Exactly, and What Does It Do?

Fiber is an indigestible type of carbohydrate found in many types of foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. It comes in two forms:

Some common sources of soluble fiber are beans and peas; oats; certain fruits like plums, bananas, and apples; certain vegetables like broccoli, sweet potatoes, and carrots; certain nuts, with almonds being the highest in dietary fiber.

Some common sources of insoluble fiber are whole grain foods like brown rice, barley, and wheat bran; beans; certain vegetables like peas, green beans, and cauliflower; avocado; and the skins of some fruits like plums, grapes, kiwis, and tomatoes.

The importance of getting adequate fiber has been known for a long time. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who famously said “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” recommended whole-grain breads to improve bowel movements.

What else does it help with? What doesn’t it help with? Let’s find out.

Fiber Intake and Colon Cancer

For many years, we have been told to eat a high-fiber diet to reduce our risk of colon cancer.

Well, it turns out that this advice was based on relatively small studies. More recent, larger, and better-designed studies refute their findings.

For instance, a study conducted by Harvard University that followed over 80,000 nurses for 16 years found that dietary fiber was not strongly associated with a reduced risk for either colon cancer or polyps (a precursor to colon cancer).

Another Harvard study combined the above research with several other large studies to pool over 20 years’ worth of data on 700,000 men and women, and found that a high intake of fiber did not protect against colorectal cancer.

 Fiber Intake and Other Cancers

While fiber doesn’t seem to protect us against colorectal cancer, research suggest it does reduce the risk of other types of cancer.

For example, a study conducted by the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (Switzerland) found that the fiber in whole grains was associated with a reduced risk of mouth and throat cancer. Refined grains had no such association because the fiber is removed during processing.

According to research conducted by Imperial College, getting an adequate amount of fiber every day may also reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Fiber Intake and Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

This type of disease is caused by a buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels that feed the heart (arteries), which makes them hard and narrow. This is known as atherosclerosis, and a total blockage of an artery produces a heart attack.

Studies have shown that fiber reduces the risk of heart disease.

A pooled analysis conducted by the University of Minnesota analyzed the data from 10 studies to investigate the association between fiber intake and heart disease. Researchers found that each 10-gram increase in daily fiber intake was associated with a 14% decrease in risk of all heart disease, and a 27% decrease in risk of death from such disease.

Research conducted by Harvard University supports these findings. After following 43,757 men for 6 years, researchers found that as fiber intake increased, the risk of heart disease decreased.

Further research from Harvard University demonstrated that soluble fiber decreases total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which helps protect against heart disease.

Fiber Intake and Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of disorders including high blood pressure, high insulin levels, obesity (with excessive weight in the abdomen area), high levels of triglycerides (particles in the body that carry fats), and low HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Among its many obvious dangers, metabolic syndrome markedly increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Research conducted by Tufts University demonstrated that increasing whole grain intake reduced the risk of developing this syndrome. Researchers found that the fiber and magnesium in the whole grains were primarily, but not wholly, responsible for these benefits.

This isn’t surprising as studies have shown that dietary fiber improves blood sugar control, reduces blood pressure, decreases cholesterol levels, and can prevent weight gain and promote weight loss.

Fiber Intake and Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form, and is characterized by chronically high blood sugar levels. It’s caused by a body’s inability to produce enough insulin to lower blood sugar levels, or by cells being unable to use the insulin properly.

Studies have shown that fiber reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes because it improves your body’s ability to use insulin and regulate blood sugar levels.

On the other hand, a diet low in fiber and high in simple carbohydrates (those which are quickly absorbed by the body) has been shown to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Fiber Intake and Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis is an intestinal inflammation, and is one of the most common colon disorders in the Western world. It’s quite painful and especially prevalent in those over 45 years of age.

Harvard University conducted a study wherein they followed 43,881 men, and researchers found that eating adequate fiber, and insoluble fiber in particular, was associated with a 40% reduction in the risk of diverticulitis.

How Much Fiber Do You Need Every Day?

The evidence is pretty clear: eat enough fiber, and you’re more likely to live a long, healthy life.

How much is enough, though?

According to the Institute of Medicine, children and adults should consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food eaten.

Here are some easy ways to make sure you hit your daily requirement:

  • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking juices.
  • Choose whole-grain breads, rice, cereals, and pasta over processed forms.
  • Eat raw vegetables as snacks instead of chips, crackers, or energy bars.
  • Include legumes in your diet (a fun way to do this is to cook some international dishes that use a lot of whole-grains and legumes, such as Indian or Middle-Eastern food).

If you’d like to see the fiber content of a wide variety of common foods, check out this helpful chart created by Harvard University.

Do you pay attention to your fiber intake? What are your favorite sources? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Jenny Leadem

    Great stuff, my only question is how much is too much? Since I started trying to eat healthy I can range anywhere from 20-35g of fiber a day. But I only eat around 1484 calories. So that’s a bit over the recommendation >. < Haven't noticed any problems so far but I'd hate to cause myself problems in the long run

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jenny! That’s only a little higher than the IOM recommends. I don’t see any harm in that. Especially if you’re getting a good balance of insoluble and soluble…

  • Chris Baxter-Parr

    Hi Mike. What’s your take on Psyllium Husk? I try to take it a few times a day – it works like fibre in the body.
    Trying to fit veg in every meal and wholemeal grains when your cutting can be a pain and this is where I find it useful. Just curious what you opinion is?

    • Michael Matthews

      It’s a good fiber supplement. Especially the seed powder as it’s soluble, which we tend to get too little of.

      Supplementing is definitely useful for when you’re cutting. It’s usually not necessary when maintaining or bulking because it’s easy to get enough in your diet if you’re eating healthily.

  • Jingxiang Shi

    Hi Mike, I enjoyed your article very much. As a loyal and careful reader I can tell you I found what I believe is a typo (LOL) – “while-grains” in the last bulletin point.

    Also, in your article you mention “soluble fiber”, “insoluble fiber” as well as “dietary fiber”. May I double confirm if “dietary fiber” means both soluble and insoluble fiber?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks and lol oops! I’ll fix it. 🙂

      Yeah dietary fiber includes both soluble and insoluble.

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  • Anthony Hernandez

    Hey, Mike! Have you ever used or heard of Ultra Fiber DX? They carry it at GNC and Amazon. It has quite a bit of fiber (and a little extra protein). I’ve been using it in my post-workout shakes and makes a noticeable difference in how full I feel afterwards (closer to 2 hours vs. being hungry 30 minutes later). Just wondering if as a guy I should be concerned about the soy protein (doesn’t seem like there’s that much) or anything else in the product. They have both unflavored and chocolate versions:
    http://barndadnutrition.com/fiber-dx-supplement
    http://barndadnutrition.com/barndads-fiberdx-german-chocolate-shake

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  • Hey Mike – this was a useful article. What are your thoughts on how much we can rely on natural fiber vs supplemental fiber? Quest bars have a nice 17g of fiber, for example. Is daily supplementation of fiber a permissible alternative if I find it tough to hit the recommended 30-40g a day for me? Or, should I try to eat more naturally?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah the fiber found in QB counts. It’s mostly soluble I believe. I prefer not to supplement directly with fiber because I take enough supps as it is, haha.

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Valentine

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the great article! I can just add that sometimes people think that the more useful
    things they eat, the better they will feel. In fact, it is easy to overdo with
    even the most useful things. For example, too much food fiber that is taken for
    the sake of better health can cause only more health problems for people who
    suffer from sensitivity of bowels or hemorrhoids. Besides that, even with all
    their advantages and ability to regulate appetite and body weight, more fibers
    are not able to make a person lose more weight. It is better to give attention
    to a harmonic combination of soluble and insoluble fibers in food or even
    resort to manufactured fiber supplements.
    Resource: http://www.qualitynature.com/blog/why-is-fiber-so-important/

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  • Excellent Article. Thanks for the information on comparing fiber intake to how many calories eaten per day, that is very helpful!

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  • Casey Collier

    Hi Mike!
    I just came across this article and I think that I am getting way too much fiber. I eat between 3,500 and 4,000 calories per day due to an extremely fast metabolism and, like you reccomend, am consuming a large percentage of my calories (55%) from carbs. Usually, I am getting around 75-90 grams of fiber per day. I generally get 90-95% of my calories from “clean foods” because I seem to function better on them in and out of the gym. I am having some pretty noticible GI bloating (I have determined it is most likely from the fiber) which is annoying considering I am between 6-7% bodyfat. How would you reccomend lowering the fiber intake without simply eating white bread all day?

    • Ah yeah that’s quite a bit of fiber. Wow.

      I would make a spreadsheet of the foods you eat every day with fiber counts and look where you can trim with alternatives.

      You may want to add some fruit and vegetable juices to your daily meal planning as well to get fiber-free carbs. You can even go fresh squeezed to avoid a bunch of added sugar.

  • Jay

    Hey Mike

    Does hitting/missing your fibre intake affect your body composition in any way?

  • Aikas

    Hey Mike,
    What is the maximum amount of Fiber that I could have safely every day while bulking?
    Keep the good work going <3

    • I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you’re just eating a good variety of nutritious foods.

  • Angel Gongora

    Hey Mike i was wondering if you can answer this question ? Should I count the calories from fiber to my daily calories ? When I put it on this app call lose it which is very similar to myfitnesspal it does not count the fiber toward my total cal? Is there a reason why ? Thank you hope to hear from you soon .

    • Hey Angel!

      There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.

      Our body can’t digest insoluble fiber (which is why it helps clean you out), so those carbs “don’t count.” Soluble fiber, on the other hand, is digested and processed and does contain calories.

      So, if the app you’re using doesn’t count any fiber at all, I recommend using a different app.

      I don’t bother subtracting fiber from my meal plans because I don’t really feel like calculating just my insoluble fiber intake so I can eat maybe 10 to 15 grams more carbs every day.

      My pleasure. Hope this helps!

      • Amin Abaee

        Awesome reply and explanation, Mike!

  • sakib800

    Hey Mike,

    all my life I ate a carb rich diet (since Im from Bangladesh). Like literally a plate of white rice lunch & dinner EVERYDAY. (i was fairly lean btw) (and rice fills me up good.)

    So the thing is i eat more protein now from shakes and meats and train properly to gain muscle

    But I notice when ever I hit a deficit, my stools become very hard and sometimes it even hurts to get it out.

    And i dont use the bathroom everyday like i used to

    Is it the increase in protein and the lack of food volume?

    How can I fix?

    Thanks!

    • Heyo! Drinking more water, eating more fruits and vegetables will help. Hard to do on a cut since you don’t have that many calories to work with sometimes.

      • sakib800

        Hey Thanks for the response! I am kinda worried that back then i used to use the bathroom for stool every day and now I go once every few days. I mean since your are cutting this should be normal right? Also could it be the high protein diet?

        • No problem. It’s not ideal to happen no matter if you’re bulking, maintaining, or cutting. I’d reexamine your food choices and definitely include more water, fiber, and produce. That will help a lot to give more volume compared to the protein.

    • Amin Abaee

      I have found that natural peanut butter, water, oatmeal and dates really help me. Also you could aadd a mg supplement such as natural calm mg citrate or mg glycinate.
      Also, for some people olive oil or butter seems to help.

  • Miz Eloise

    hello. so im slowly working my way up to a bulk by reverse dieting
    a few questions:
    1) my current calorie intake is now at 1640. i consume 30 to 45 g of fiber weekly. mostly from barley. i get hungry if my fiber intake is low like hands get clammy nd dizzy. however i feel like im just pooping all nutrients out. i can still see undigested barley when i excrete it (ermm tmi). is this bad? should i lower my fiber? when does too much fiber get so bad that its counter productive.

    2) what happens if i 3xceed my carbs and protein grams per day without going over my calorie limit? i eat nutrient dense food so sometimes i hot 2 macros with one food so to speak. i dont wanna reduce my food volume cuse i feel like i have an anaconda in my tummy i get hungry easily.

    • Hey hey

      1. The hunger, I can understand. But, if you’re not getting enough carbs (not fiber), that can explain the clamminess and dizziness. I recommend making some substitutions with potatoes, bread, legumes, fruit, starchy veggies

      2. That’s fine!

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