What is fiber? Fiber is the parts of plants that we can’t digest. Only foods that come from plants have fiber. We used to call fiber bulk or roughage. Now we talk about dietary fiber or just plain fiber.

Why do we need it? We’ve all heard that eating foods with fiber in them is good for our health. Fiber prevents constipation and may decrease our risk of getting diseases of the bowel such as colon cancer. Fiber can also help fight high cholesterol.

Is all fiber the same? No. Fibers are either soluble or insoluble in water. Most high fiber foods contain  both soluble and insoluble fiber, but in different amounts. Insoluble fiber helps prevent and treat constipation and diverticulitis. Soluble fiber seems to help lower blood cholesterol when eaten as part of a low fat diet.

Where do we get fiber? The best sources of insoluble fiber include breads, cereals and pastas made from whole grains, fruit (with the peel) and vegetables. Good sources of soluble fiber include oat bran, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), oatmeal, apples, oranges, grapefruit and cabbage.

How much fiber do we need? That depends on how many calories you eat each  day. The more calories you need, the more fiber you need. The typical American eats very little fiber – only 10 to 20 grams per day. Many dietitians recommend 25-30 grams daily for optimal health.

What’s the best way to start eating more fiber? Increase fiber in your diet slowly. This will help avoid the discomfort of gas pains and diarrhea. If you’re not used to eating fiber begin by adding one fresh fruit and one serving of whole grain to your daily diet. Next add one serving of vegetables and another serving of a whole grain product. Gradually increase your amounts until you are eating two servings daily of fruits, three of vegetables and six of whole grains and legumes. (Remember to drink plenty of water to decrease any side effects from the fiber.)

Where’s a good place to find high-fiber recipes? Check out these popular sites: