The Nation’s Other Deficit: Fiber

Since 2010, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has been recommending increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in our diets to improve of dietary intake of fiber amongst other essential nutrients.  Last month, the Journal of Nutrition published an article reporting on last October’s roundtable discussion on “Filling America’s Fiber Gap: Probing Realistic Solutions”.    This group of experts convened to discuss the fact that greater than 90% of adults and children in American still do not consume the recommended amount of fiber each day.  Recent science has shown the many long term benefits of a high fiber diet (> 25 grams/day) .  These benefits include decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Our continued inability to increase our intake of fiber may be contributing to the increase in chronic disease we are seeing.

Barriers to Increasing Fiber

The roundtable panel identified a number of challenges that are barriers to increasing the intake of fiber in the American diet.  These included perceptions that high fiber taste bad with unfamiliar textures, perceptions of increased cost of high fiber foods and misunderstanding of fiber content of various processed foods.  They found that there was a perception that terms used by manufactures like “whole grain”, “made from whole grains” and “rich in whole grains” was synonymous with high fiber.  This however was found to be misleading.  One study looked at the fiber content of 72 cereal products that claimed to be “whole grain” and found 60% had 1gram of fiber or less per serving (1).   The current FDA regulations do not require manufacturers who claim to use “whole grain” to correspond to high fiber content.

The group stated that they believed the best way to address the national deficiency of fiber intake without increasing calories was to substitute high fiber grains and fortification of fiber to whole grain products in place of the current grains consumed.  They felt that small steps would make a bigger impact than the current recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables that have not yet succeeded in shifting the fiber short fall.   Increasing fruits and vegetable are definitely beneficial to our health but focusing only on fruits and vegetables to obtain our needed daily fiber would result in an increase in calories.  The other downfall to relying only on fruits and vegetables for our fiber intake is that not all fruits and vegetables are high in fiber.  This requires additional education to choose those highest in fiber.

Practical Solutions

Small changes can make a big difference:

Instead of this…Try this
Breakfast: Plain bagel ( 1gm fiber)
Jam (0 gm fiber)
Breakfast: All bran muffin (4.6 gm fiber)
Peanut butter 1tsp  (1.1 gm fiber)
Bagette (1 gm fiber)
iceburg Lettuce ½ cup ( 0.8 gm fiber)
Tomato  2 slice (0.5 gm fiber)
Cheese (0 gm fiber)
Turkey  (0 gm fiber)
100% whole wheat roll ( 6gm fiber)
Shredded carrots  ¼ cup(1.7 gm fiber)
Romaine lettuce ½ cup  (1.2 gm fiber)
Turkey (0 gm fiber)
White rice 1 cup (2 gm fiber)
Green beans ½  cup (2.1 gm fiber)
Baked chicken (0 gm fiber)
Brown rice 1 cup (5.5 gm fiber)
Kidney beans ½ cup  (9.7 gm fiber)
Baked Chicken (0 gm fiber)
Snack: Potato chips 1cup ( 1 gm fiber)Snack: Popcorn 3 cups  ( 3 gm fiber)
Total fiber ~ 8.4gm total calories= 1952Total fiber~ 32.8gm  total calories= 1041

A wholefood diet with a focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains will have the biggest impact on our fiber intake.  In order to get there, we need to start somewhere.

Here are some other ways to increase the fiber in your diet….

  1. Add oat bran or wheat germ to salads, soups and yogurt.
  2. Read package labels and choose cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving
  3. If you are struggling with substituting brown rice instead of white rice, consider mixing them together.
  4. Add beans to your salad ( each ½ cup serving adds 7-8 grams of fiber)
  5. Substitute beans for meat 2 to 3 times per week
  6. When possible, eat the peels of fruits like apples and pears.
  7. Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices
  8. Add dried fruits to cereals,  yogurt, and salads
  9. Grate carrots and add them to sandwiches and salads

Adding more fiber to our diet does not have to mean compromising on taste.  So experiment and see what works for you. Remember when increasing the fiber, it is important to increase the amount of water as well to help minimize bloating.  As a nation, this might have more of an impact on healthcare costs than which candidate will win the upcoming presidential election.


1. Hornick B, Liska D, Birkett A. The fiber deficit—part II: consumer misperceptions about whole grains and fiber: a call for improving whole grain labeling and education. Nutr Today.  2012;47:104–9.


2. Clemens,R., Kranz, S., Mobley,A.R., Nicklas, T.A., Raimondi,M.P., Rodriguez, J.C., Slavin, J.L & Warshaw, H. (2012). Filling America’s Fiber Intake Gap: Summary of a Roundtable to Probe Realistic Solutions with a Focus on Grain-Based Foods. The Journal of Nutrition. 142: 1390S-1401S. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.160176

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