Fiber: Why It’s Important and How To Make Sure You’re Eating Enough

You may have heard that you need fiber, but why is it so necessary? What is fiber, and how can it help you feel better? More importantly, how can you make sure that you’re eating enough fiber while on the road?

Let’s start with the basics. Fiber is a carbohydrate found in some foods: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans are some examples. The body cannot digest fiber, which is why fiber helps to keep things moving smoothly through your digestive system; it passes through and comes out as waste.

Fiber is a powerhouse that keeps your body healthy in several ways. Fiber may lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease, it may help prevent and combat diabetes, and it may assist in weight management by promoting a feeling of fullness. That being said, many people are most fond of fiber’s role in promoting regular bowel movements. Constipation is a common problem among adults, especially in jobs with limited physical activity, such as truck driving. Adequate fiber intake can assist in preventing constipation, as well as other conditions of the digestive system, like diarrhea, colitis (painful inflammation in your colon) and hemorrhoids. For more information on the benefits of fiber click here.

So, how much fiber do you actually need to eat? Women need at least 25 grams per day, and men need at least 38 grams. This is in stark contrast to data showing that American adults consume only about 15 grams of fiber per day. It’s no wonder that the health of so many individuals is suffering.

Where do you get fiber while on the road? This can be tricky, but with a little bit of investigating, you can find good choices in almost all gas stations and restaurants. Some good options include fresh fruit and/or vegetable cups, popcorn, and oatmeal. If these items aren’t available, you can look for things like granola bars that include whole grains and oats. Below are 10 convenient and easy ways to incorporate fiber into your diet while on the road.

  1. Eat popcorn as a snack. Most gas stations carry some variety of this snack, which packs around 4 grams of fiber per serving.
  2. When at restaurants, choose vegetables or sweet potatoes as a side. You’ll get both fiber and a ton of nutrients without even having to think about it.
  3. Oatmeal is your fiber friend. Many gas stations stock cups of oatmeal that only require water and a microwave to prepare. When choosing flavored oatmeal, choose the option with the lowest sugar content for optimal health. 
  4. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables. Most gas stations offer fruit or vegetable cups and/or individual apples, oranges, and bananas that you can pick up easily. Whether as a snack or as part of a meal, fruits and vegetables are sure to increase your fiber intake. Don’t worry too much about dipping raw vegetables in some type of dressing; you’re still reaping the benefits of fiber, regardless of whether or not vegetables are eaten plain.
  5. Look for meal replacement bars. While fiber from whole foods is best, sometimes the only available option is a meal replacement bar. Look for ones that contain at least 4 grams of fiber per serving, such as Larabars, KIND bars, Quaker Breakfast Bars, or Belvita Breakfast Biscuits.
  6. Choose soups that have beans and/or vegetables. Black bean soup is a great choice that you can find at many restaurants, and a traditional vegetable soup is also a great option.
  7. Choose yogurt cups with granola and fruit. These are available at many gas stations and restaurants. As with oatmeal, choose the option lowest in sugar to promote optimal health.
  8. Look for whole grains. If there is a whole grain option available, choose that. For example, if you stop at Subway, choose the 9-Grain Wheat or 9-Grain Honey Oat bread. These breads are made of whole grains and contain more fiber than other options. For packaged products, you can read the ingredients of the product (found near the Nutrition Facts label), and look for whole grain as part of the description. Stay tuned for a full post on tips for reading those pesky Nutrition Facts labels.
  9. Choose nuts and seeds. These foods usually contain a good amount of fiber, and they can be found at nearly all stops. Make sure to choose unsalted versions at least some of the time! See our previous blog post on sodium for more information.
  10. Speaking of nuts and seeds, trail mix is easy and convenient. It can be found at most stops, and it includes multiple sources of fiber (fruits, nuts, seeds). Again as with oatmeal, choose the option lowest in sugar.

Whew, that was a lot. Adequate fiber intake is essential, and it’s important that you incorporate it into your diet whenever possible. One important note: make sure that when you increase your fiber consumption, you also increase your water consumption. Water is the key to helping fiber move through your digestive system, and inadequate water intake can contribute to some really unpleasant gut discomfort.

Getting enough fiber can be tricky at first, but with a little dedication and practice, you’ll soon be consuming recommended amounts and feeling so much better.

This post was written in large part by Taylor Beard, dietetic intern at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Taylor will be eligible to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in May of 2018.