Getting Enough Fiber

Getting Enough Fiber

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Don't Believe Everything You See on TV

There's a funny commercial now running on TV that depicts a man wearing a big hat stacked with vegetables and fruits. We see him bumbling through a day trying to eat healthfully. While the commercial makes us laugh, it conveys a misleading impression. It is not difficult to eat the recommended amounts of vegetables and fruits. Although the commercial may help the company sell a product, Americans need to hear another message: Eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, which are all high in fiber, is an achievable goal.

The current recommended amounts of dietary fiber call for 21 to 25 grams per day for adult women and 30 to 38 grams per day for men. If you eat seven servings of fruits and vegetables and three servings of whole grains each day as part of an overall balanced diet, like the federal dietary guidelines recommend, you easily reach 25 grams of fiber. One standard serving of vegetables or fruits provides two grams of dietary fiber. A half-cup of cooked dried beans has 6 to 8 grams. An ounce of nuts contains 2 to 3 grams. One slice of whole-wheat bread or a half-cup of cooked whole grains yields 2.5 grams (which is much more than the 1 gram found in refined grains). And an ounce of cereal with bran or other high fiber ingredients may have from 4 to 5 or even 10 to 12 grams.

Reaching 30 to 38 grams of fiber is not hard, if you make two or three of the following choices daily: increase your vegetable and fruit consumption to 10 servings a day, make more of your grain choices whole grain, use a high-fiber cereal for breakfast or snacks, or eat cooked beans or nuts or both.

Since women currently eat on average 13 to 15 grams of fiber a day and men 17 to 19 grams, clearly Americans will have to change their eating habits to consume an extra 5 to 15 grams a day. By eating more fiber, other problems that the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee identified in our present state of nutrition could also be resolved. However, the necessary eating changes, like consuming seven to ten servings of vegetables and fruits a day, are not as impossible, entertaining, or stressful as the TV commercial pretends.

One standard serving of vegetables or fruits may be less than you think. All of these are standard servings: a half cup of raw or cooked chopped vegetables or fruits, a cup of raw leafy greens like lettuce, a medium piece of fruit, a quarter cup of dried fruit, or a six-ounce glass of one hundred percent juice. If you're still trying to fill your plate with big portions of meat and refined pasta, or splurging on desserts or chips at every meal, it would be hard to eat more than one vegetable or fruit serving. But as soon as you make room for them and learn a variety of quick and delicious ways to serve them, you'll want to eat more.

The goal is not unrealistic. It's just new. To help you make the transition, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has developed an eating style called the New American Plate. Rather than counting servings, you simply make sure that at least two-thirds of your plate at each meal contains vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. If you follow the New American Plate not just at dinner, but all day long, you'll easily reach the recommended targets for these foods and many important nutrients. This easy-to-remember plate strategy will increase your consumption of fiber, potassium, and a whole variety of antioxidant vitamins and natural protective plant compounds called phytochemicals.

A central part of AICR's New American Plate is that food that is good for us should taste delicious. With so many health-oriented meal ideas now appearing in magazines, television shows and on websites (check out AICR's recipes at www.aicr.org), there's no reason you should have to eat apples while running on a treadmill or wear a hat full of produce while going to work.