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Fitting Fiber into Your Day

Consumer Conscious

The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences Research Council issued Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for fiber. Previously, no national standardized recommendation existed. The new DRIs represent desirable intake levels established using the most recent scientific evidence available.

Whole Grains

Current Recommendations

The current recommendations range between 19 grams per day and 38 grams per day depending on age and gender. However, the average American only consumes 14 grams of dietary fiber per day. Generally, males 9 to 13 years of age and males over 50 should get around 30 grams per day. Males 14 to 49 should get around 38 grams. For females ages 9 to 50, the requirements is about 21 to 26 grams per day. Females over age 51 require about 21 grams per day.

For many people, meeting the DRI for fiber may require changes in their eating habits. Eating several servings of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dried beans each day is good way to boost fiber intake. However, if you are not used to eating high fiber foods regularly, these changes should be made gradually to avoid problems with gas and diarrhea. Anyone with a chronic disease should consult a physician before greatly altering a diet.

Food Labeling of Fiber

Nutrients required on food labels reflect current public health concerns and coincide with current public health recommendations. Nutrition labels now list a Daily Reference Value (DRV) for specific nutrients, including fiber. The DRV for fiber is 25 grams per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet, or 30 grams per day based on a 2,500 calorie diet. The fiber content of a food is listed in grams and as a percentage of the daily value.

Specific health claims can be made for food products that meet specific requirements. For example:

"Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in fruits, vegetables and grain products that contain fiber, particularly soluble fiber, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."

In order to make a health claim about fiber and coronary heart disease, the food must contain at least 0.6 g of soluble fiber per reference amount. The soluble fiber content must be listed and cannot be added or fortified. A product containing a health claim for fiber and coronary heart disease must also meet the definitions of a low fat, low in saturated fat and low in cholesterol product.

A statement such as "made with oat bran" or "high in oat bran" implies that a product contains a considerable amount of the nutrient. Claims that imply a product contains a particular amount of fiber can be made only if the food actually meets the definition for "high fiber" or "good source of fiber," whichever is appropriate.

The following terms describe products that can help increase fiber intake:

  • High fiber: 5 g or more per serving
  • Good source of fiber: 2.5 g to 4.9 g per serving
  • More or added fiber: At least 2.5 g more per serving than the reference food

Although fiber is important, it is just one part of a properly balanced diet. It is possible that too much fiber may reduce the amount of calcium, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium that is absorbed from foods. Deficiencies of these nutrients could result if the amount of fiber in the diet is excessive, especially in young children.

Fiber supplements are sold in a variety of forms from wafers to powder form. Many laxatives sold as stool softeners actually are fiber supplements. Fiber's role in the diet is still being investigated. It appears that the various types of fiber have different roles in the body.

Kurtzweil, Paula. Nutrition Facts to Help Consumers Eat Smart. FDA Health.
Duyff, Roberta. American Dietetic Association's 2nd Edition Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. P130-142. 2002.
Slavin, J. "Dietary Fiber: Mechanisms or Magic in Disease Prevention?" Nutrition Today.
Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). National Academy Press p. 265-334.

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