All About Fiber

A lot of advertisements for fiber supplements give the impression that getting your fiber from food is exceedingly difficult. Well, it isn't. Fiber abounds in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. As long as you make smart food choices—and this section will help—your diet will be naturally high in fiber.

Fiber is a carbohydrate that cannot be digested and therefore is not absorbed into the body. As a result, it travels through the digestive system and is excreted. The term dietary fiber describes natural fiber found in plant foods. This is the type of fiber listed in the Nutrition Facts label of the food products you buy. The term total fiber is defined as dietary fiber plus functional fiber. Functional fiber is fiber added to food as an ingredient, such as guar gum and xanthan gum. Functional fiber may be either synthetic (manufactured) or natural. Both dietary fiber and functional fiber are beneficial.

The amount of fiber you need varies depending upon your age, gender, and overall caloric intake. On a food package's Nutrition Facts label, the daily value of dietary fiber for adults is based on calorie consumption:

Calories Consumed

Daily Value of Dietary Fiber

2,000 per day

25 grams

2,500 per day

30 grams

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI)—the reference value for nutrient intake established by the federal government—for total fiber is related to age and gender:

Gender and Age Group

DRI for Total Fiber

Men, 19-50 years

38 grams

Men, over 50

30 grams

Women, 19-50 years

25 grams

Women, over 50

21 grams

Fiber may play a role in prevention and treatment of diseases, especially cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Specifically, fiber may help reduce LDL cholesterol—the type of cholesterol that may form plaque along the walls of arteries—and regulate blood sugar levels. In addition, fiber helps treat and prevent constipation. Fiber softens the stool and increases its bulk. Increased fecal bulk causes the large intestine to contract, which helps move the stool through the colon.

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