Author: Heather Lee, Hon BA (kin), CPT
As I sit at the family dinner table contemplating how I can get out of eating my vegetables, my dad chimes, “Kids, eat your brussel sprouts, they’ll put hair on your chest.” So as my brother races to eat his, my little sister and I vow to never eat another brussel sprout again for the rest of our lives! Most of us spend our childhoods coming up with creative ways of avoiding fibrous foods such as bran, veggies, and the ever-popular brussel sprouts; however, the irony is that in our adult lives we cannot seem to find enough ways to make fiber part of our daily nutrition. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with seniors, it’s that this trend will not only continue, but multiply exponentially as we age. Fiber will not only become a top priority in our diets, but also a very popular conversational topic. And so our fascination with fiber begins!

What is Dietary Fiber?

Fiber (a.k.a. roughage) is an indigestible carbohydrate, thus there is little caloric value from digesting fiber. So fiber doesn’t provide our bodies with energy, but it does do a great deal of other things to be discussed in this article. There are also two kinds of fiber namely soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fibers are the tough, fibrous structures of fruits, vegetables, and grains that are indigestible and that do not dissolve in water. Soluble fibers are the food components that readily dissolve in water and often impart gummy or gel-like characteristics to food; for example, pectin from fruit that is used in jellies.

Why is Dietary Fiber so Important?

Fiber contributes to good overall health in many ways. Fiber improves the body’s handling of glucose and the hormone insulin, perhaps by slowing the digestion or absorption of carbohydrate. Also, lacking fiber in the diet along with consuming an abundance of highly refined carbohydrate foods such as white breads and simple sugars is likely to increase the risk of developing diabetes. Secondly, eating adequate amounts of fiber may reduce the risk of colon cancer since the insoluble fibers of whole grains, fruits and vegetables may bind or dilute cancer-causing materials and speed their transit through the colon. In addition, ingesting fiber can also help with weight control and maintenance. Fiber helps fill you up without adding many calories. Therefore, calorie-dense concentrated fats and sweets can be replaced with more fibrous alternatives. For example, a good snack alternative for a honey-glazed donut would be a blueberry bran muffin at your local coffee shop. Eating your veggies can also possibly reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, a build up of plaque on the arteries causing vessel narrowing and heart disease by several mechanisms. Soluble fibers may lower blood cholesterol by delaying absorption in the digestive tract. High cholesterol is a major contributing factor to these conditions, thus decreasing the blood cholesterol level will lessen the susceptibility to both of these diseases. Some soluble fibers are digested by intestinal bacteria to yield small, fat-like products that, when absorbed, may lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or the “bad” cholesterol. Also, fiber can also decrease the overall fat and cholesterol intake by replacing these types of foods in our diets (recall the donut example above). Fiber also promotes feelings of fullness because of its ability to absorb water and swell. Soluble fibers in a meal also slow the movement of food through the upper digestive tract allowing you to feel fuller longer. Other health-related benefits of fiber include helping to prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, and other intestinal problems as well as helping to prevent appendicitis by keeping the contents of the intestine moist and easy to eliminate.

Finally, fiber pushes against the walls of the digestive tract causing them to stimulate the muscle surrounding the tract to help keep this smooth muscle toned and healthy. This prevents diverticulosis, a condition in which the intestinal walls become weak and bulge which leaves them susceptible to infection and painful inflammation requiring hospitalization, antibiotic therapy, or surgery.

How much fiber does the average male or female need to remain healthy?

According to the Canadian Food Guide to Healthy Eating, the suggestions for fiber intake include both an overall increase in complex carbohydrate intake as well as a general recommendation of 20-30g of dietary fiber per day.

How can I attain adequate amounts of fiber in my diet without supplementation?

Unrefined grains are all rich in
fiber. Examples of these include whole-wheat pastas, whole-wheat breads, brown rice, rye, oats and oat bran.
Fruits, vegetables, seeds and legumes are also chock-full of fiber. Thus, eating a variety of these types of foods is essential for gaining adequate fiber as well as other important nutrients. More specific examples of high fiber foods with their respective fiber content are shown at the bottom.

In conclusion, a healthy diet including high-fiber foods contributes to your overall health by helping to maintain digestive system structures and functions, contributing to the possible prevention of various diseases and illnesses and controlling body weight.
Fiber Food Names
Total Dietary Fibre
Shredded Wheat, Post cereal (1 biscuit)
3.2 g
All bran, Kellogg’s cereal, (125 mL)
11.8 g
Long-grain brown rice (cooked)(250 mL)
3.1 g
Whole-wheat spaghetti (cooked)(250 mL)
4.8 g
Sweet corn on the cob (boiled)(20 cm)
4.5 g
Brussel sprouts (boiled)(4 sprouts)
3.0 g
Green peas (boiled)(125 mL)
Potato with skin (boiled)(12 cm long)
Potato without skin (boiled) (12 cm long
Dates, dry (10)
Prunes, dried, uncooked (10 prunes)
Raspberries, frozen (125 ml
Papayas, raw (1 fruit)
Apple, raw, with skin

Fiber Links

Fiber Diet Goals
The Facts on Fiber | What is Fiber | How does Fiber Affect Me?
Highest Fiber Foods
Fiber Food Selections