If youre among the estimated 80% of Americans who dont get the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber, youre missing out on an array of health benefits-many of which arent directly connected to fibers well-known boost to regularity. Research has associated increased fiber intake with not only reduced risk of gastrointestinal disorders and diverticular disease, but also better cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Ideally, you should get the majority of your fiber from fruits, vegetables and grains, advises Robert M. Russell, MD, emeritus professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts. It is definitely possible to take enough fiber from supplements-one teaspoon of the most popular supplement has about six grams. But supplement use should be used to top it off in order to meet the fiber recommendation, if you are not eating enough of the food sources.
Men over age 50 should aim for 30 grams of daily fiber, according to the Institute of Medicine-38 grams for younger men. Women over 50 need 21 grams of dietary fiber a day, or 25 grams for those 50 and younger.
REDUCED STROKE RISK: A new meta-analysis of eight observational studies suggests another possible benefit for dietary fiber-reducing your danger of suffering a stroke. British scientists reported in Stroke that each additional seven grams of daily fiber intake was associated with a significant 7% lower risk of the two main types of stroke combined. Thats about the equivalent of an extra serving of beans or two servings of fruit such as apples or oranges.
Although the observational data couldnt prove cause and effect, a role for dietary fiber is plausible, noted lead author Diane Threapleton, MSc, of the University of Leeds: Soluble types of fiber form gels in the stomach and small intestine, slowing the rate of nutrient absorption and slowing gastric emptying, which increases satiety and influences the overall amount of food eaten, resulting in lower levels of overweight. Bacterial fermentation of resistant starch and soluble fibers in the large intestine produces short-chain fatty acids, which inhibit cholesterol synthesis by the liver, consequently lowering serum levels.
TOO MUCH?: Few participants in the studies had fiber intake of more than 25 grams daily, the researchers noted, so extrapolation of risk at higher intakes should be undertaken with caution.
And it is possible to get too much of a good thing, says Dr. Russell: Too much fiber can cause excess gas and discomfort, and certain fibers can bind essential minerals and lessen their bio-availability.