Getting enough fiber is really quite simple. If you follow the recommendations of the “Food Guide Wheel” and include the amounts of healthy grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables it suggests, you will automatically get enough fiber in your diet. Here are some additional tips to help fiber work better in your body:
1. Increase the amount of fiber in your diet gradually. Your intestines will be more comfortable with this approach than with a sudden onslaught of high-fiber foods. Too much fiber too soon is likely to catch your intestines off guard, leading to bloating and gas. Each week, increase the amount of fiber in your diet by about 5 grams a day for adults and 1 to 2 grams a day for children until you reach your individual intestines-friendly daily amount. This is usually somewhere between 25 and 35 grams a day for adults, and half that for children. Keep experimenting with the amount and type of fiber that gives you a comfortable “gut feeling” to help fiber work better in your body.
This super fiber is made from psyllium seeds ground into bran-like flakes. It has more water-absorbing capability (called “stool bulking capacity”) than any other fiber. Yet, stronger is not necessarily better. Because of its high water- absorbing capacity, if not used wisely, it can actually gum up the stools, resulting in constipation; the very problem it was meant to cure. This is known as the psyllium syndrome. If using psyllium, take two precautions: Begin with only one teaspoon then gradually increase the amount until your stools are soft and you have no bloating or intestinal discomfort. Next, drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day when using psyllium.
2. It’s important to eat fiber from a variety of sources. By eating many types of high fiber foods, you are more likely to balance out the right amount of soluble and insoluble fibers. The more soluble the fiber, the more it ferments, and therefore the more gas it produces.
Remember the three B’s of fiber: bran, beans, and berries. One serving of bran plus one serving of beans each day will give you over half your total daily fiber needs. And remember: bran and berries blend well into yogurt smoothies.
3. Spread out your dietary fiber throughout the day. Overdosing on fiber at any one meal is liable to produce bloating and gas.
Remember the four A’s of fiber: apples, artichokes, apricots, and avocados.
4. Drink a lot of water with your fiber. To help fiber work better in your body, there has to be an adequate amount of water for it to absorb. Otherwise, fiber may actually contribute to constipation rather than prevent it. Or it may soak up water and other nutrients needed elsewhere by the body.
5. Get your fiber from food, not from pills. The fiber in a pill may not work the same way, biologically, as fiber that comes from actual food. To help fiber work better and do it’s job, it needs to be eaten in the company of other foods and with a lot of fluids.
6. Avoid fiber-induced nutritional deficiencies. Overdosing on fiber can interfere with the absorption of valuable nutrients. Fiber can push food through the intestines so fast that some nutrients, such as calcium, zinc, vitamins, and iron don’t have a chance to be fully absorbed. You could avoid eating high-fiber foods at the same time you eat foods containing these nutrients, but this is impractical. If you’re on a diet that includes more than 35 grams of fiber a day, you should consider taking vitamin and mineral supplements.
+ Journal of the American Dietetic Association 86 (1986): 732
* The RDA for fiber is 25 grams for adults; for children it is child’s age in years +5