Grandma's advice to "eat your roughage" has gained increasing scientific support. Fiber in the diet, combined with adequate fluid, is much more than a remedy for constipation.
One surprise is that fluid and fiber can help treat the opposite of constipation: diarrhea. In most kinds of diarrhea, extra fluid is needed to replace fluid lost and extra fiber is needed to help form a solid stool.
Getting enough fiber has also been linked with lowering obesity, heart diseaseType 2 diabetes and bowel disease. Enough fluid and fiber helps prevent the weakened, disfigured bowel wall that develops in up to 30 percent of Americans by the age of 50, and 66 percent by age 85.
Fiber is "prebiotic," which means it can provide food for "good" bacteria in the bowel that help prevent overgrowth of bacteria that cause disease.
Recommended daily intake of fiber is about 25 grams per day for most women and 38 grams per day for most men, equal to 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories in the diet. For children, recommended grams of fiber are equal to the child's age plus 5 grams. So, a 10-year-old would need 15 grams of fiber per day.
Most of us get less than half the recommended amount of fiber because our diets lack fiber-rich plant foods, such as true whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables, dry beans, nuts and seeds. Note that the label "whole grain" may not guarantee high fiber. To be an excellent source of fiber, grain products should have at least 5 grams per serving. Good sources will have 2.5 to 5 grams per serving.
To begin adding fiber to the diet, first be sure of ample fluid intake. Adults may want to take at least 8 to 10 cups of fluid each day and try 1 to 2 servings of high fiber food per day for 1 to 3 days, before increasing up to 6 servings or more per day. We differ in how quickly we can add high fiber foods to the diet with comfort.
Some easy substitutions to increase fiber include whole grains with bran instead of processed grains, brown rice instead of white rice, whole fruit in place of juice, extra vegetables in soups and stews, and dried beans added to salads or pureed to use as dips. Consider plant-based entrees — such as a favorite in Kentucky, soup beans — several times per week.