Why You Need More Fiber as You Age

We’ve probably all heard that fiber is our friend, and as it turns out – fiber is even more friendly to those of us who are over age 50. The problem is – how do you know if you are getting enough fiber? And what if you are not a huge fan of bananas and sweet potatoes?

What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Fiber

A lack of enough fiber in meals each day increases your risk of diverticulosis, high cholesterol levels, weight gain, digestive issues, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly even cancer.

One of the most common consequences of not getting enough fiber throughout your lifetime is diverticulosis, also known as diverticular disease. One-third or 30% of adults in the United States will have diverticular disease by the age of 50, with more males than females having the disease.  After age 70, half of adults will be diagnosed, and after age 85, that proportion jumps to 66% of adults with this condition. And it’s completely preventable – all you have to do is consume enough fiber to help support your colon.

How Fiber Works in Your Body

Fiber comes in two forms – soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is considered roughage, mostly non-digestible, and gives your digestive tract muscles something to ‘push’ against, and insoluble fiber gives bulk to stool. Foods that contain insoluble fiber include cellulose-rich foods like lettuce, cabbages, celery, carrots, and other plant foods that ‘crunch’ naturally.

Soluble fiber is king when it comes to health benefits. Foods that contain pectin, mucilages, and psyllium are rich in soluble fiber, which is a water-rich fiber that has extreme absorptive powers. Essentially, soluble fiber can ‘grab’, ‘stick to’ and ‘hang on’ to toxins like old hormones, cholesterol in bile, and other waste products, thus removing them from your system.

How Does Fiber Lower Cholesterol?

When you eat fatty foods, your body responds by releasing bile acids—which are rich in cholesterol— into your digestive tract to help digest fat. When there is fiber present, it will stick to and ‘grab’ the cholesterol before it can be reabsorbed into your bloodstream. Instead, they will stick to the fiber and be excreted along with other waste products.

In order to produce more bile for the next meal, your liver will remove cholesterol from your bloodstream, which will result in a lower circulating level of cholesterol, and lower total cholesterol levels as a result.

How Does Fiber Help with Weight Loss?

Whenever you consume foods that are rich in fiber, you are giving your meal bulk and helping to distend your stomach. Fiber also slows the digestion process a little, so that foods moves out of your stomach more slowly and you will feel fuller, longer. Foods like apples, bananas, salads, broccoli, zucchini, and tomatoes are foods that contain fiber, but not that many calories. So you can eat more of these types of foods, feel fuller, and consume fewer calories in the process.  Fiber is a real triple-play when it comes to helping with weight loss.

How Much Fiber Do I Need?

For the most part, women require 28g of fiber per day, and men need approximately 35g of fiber each day. However, a good rule of thumb is for every 1,000 calories that you eat, you should include 15g of a blend of soluble and insoluble fibers.

Are You Getting Enough Fiber Each Day?

The tried and true way to determine if you are getting enough fiber is to sit down one day, and calculate it. Using tools like the USDA’s supertracker tool can tell you in a hurry if you are getting enough fiber, based upon your age, gender, and body size. Another way to ensure your fiber intake is measuring up is to eat 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. And then just make sure you are choosing whole grains. You’ll see how easy it is to meet recommendations for many nutrients other than fiber. When you do those two things, you’ll be getting plenty of potassium, b-vitamins, and other minerals in addition to all that good fiber.

Foods Rich in Fiber

Foods with the most fiber are always going to be plant-based foods. How nice it would be if we could get fiber from our steak or chicken, or a glass of milk, but we simply cannot. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are the select sources of fiber in our diets.

If you want the most bang for your fiber buck, there are a few foods that will give you the best return on your investment. Avocados pack an amazing amount of fiber, rolling in with 11g per 1 whole avocado fruit. Black beans – along with other kinds of beans like pinto, kidney, and fava beans – provide around 15g per 1 cup serving.

Quick tip – Pick 3 foods to add to your day that you know contain a lot of fiber. Do this for 1 week, because as they say, practice makes perfect. Your colon and your cholesterol level will thank you in the end.

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Our team of dietitians, chefs and fitness experts love to share helpful information and tips to make living your best life as easy as possible. We stand for longer and healthier living through what we eat and how we live.