I know fiber is really important and most Americans don’t get even close to the recommended daily amount, which is generally considered to be 25g or more per day.
However, I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting to 25g per day without supplementation. My diet is restricted to 1200 calories or less (as prescribed by numerous doctors). Obtaining 25g of fiber takes a lot of calories, unless one enjoys a very bland diet! My particular situation is compounded by the fact that I have a severe food aversion to lettuce and raw greens (cooked are fine).
Because I seem to be falling way short on fiber, I decided to analyze the calorie and fiber content in the most commonly eaten fruits and vegetables in my household. After all, the conventional wisdom is to eat more fruits and vegetables to add fiber and reduce calories. But I was finding that produce is not calorie free and I was still fighting to stay under my total calorie goal even with increasing the amount of produce.
I looked at one serving of each of the items, meaning one half cup of each item except for a serving of greens, which is one cup raw (before cooking). I created a table using SparkPeople’s values for fat, protein, carbs, calories, and fiber to determine the best ways to increase fiber while keeping calories down. I sorted them multiple ways and looked at the top 10 for each. I know the goal is 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, but having an extra option is good.
First, I looked solely at calories. The lowest calorie fruits and vegetables are:
Bok Choy, Cucumber, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Spinach, Summer Squash, Celery, Collards, Eggplant, and Broccoli.
Eating one serving of each will set me back only 90 calories! (Well, 82, since I won’t eat the lettuce.) The only problem is that there are only 8.6 grams of fiber, or 34% of the daily requirement. And it’s a list with not a whole lot of variety in taste, and they are predominantly greens and green vegetables. It’s important to eat lots of colors for a variety of micronutrients.
Well, simply adding low calorie produce isn’t going to dramatically increase my fiber. The next logical view is to look at the highest fiber fruits and vegetables, which are:
Kidney beans, avocado, black beans, pinto beans, lima beans, beets, winter squash, black eyed peas, apple, and sweet potato.
Holy moly, that’s 58g of fiber in 10 servings! Awesome! But...one should only count beans if all the protein has been met for the day (or only one serving, or none, depending on who you ask). With five legumes out of the top ten, it’s not something that you can expect to use for a go-to list. There are some good colors here, though, in the green avocado, red beets, orange winter squash and sweet potato, and red apples, though. However, the 10 servings add up to 1027 calories leaving less than 200 calories to get the remaining 32g of protein and all other macro/micronutrients which is virtually impossible.
Excluding legumes, these are the top ten high fiber produce items:
Avocado, beets, winter squash, apples, sweet potato, banana, parsnip, kale, and pear.
This looks like a nice diverse list! One serving of all 10 gives 36g of fiber, but it still totals 799 calories. Still too many calories. The first five items alone will give me 24g of fiber for 494 calories, so maybe that’s not TOO bad, but it’s still a rather limiting diet.
It seemed like any way I stretched it, the low calorie version is lots of greens (about 20ish servings!), or easily meet it with much higher calorie fruits and vegetables. Obviously, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are needed, but it will still be very difficult to get 25g of fiber daily in a 1200 calorie diet. Of course whole grains provide fiber, too, they are also higher in calories. I still need 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day anyway. Trying to make fiber work with calcium and the carb/protein/fat ratios AND keeping it to 1200 calories or less is proving to be almost impossible.
I started poking around the Internet for more possible solutions. And then I found the magic passage:
“The recommended dietary fiber intake is 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed.
For example, for a 2000 calorie pattern, the fiber recommendation is 28 grams per day.” www.choosemyplate.gov/fa
That means for a 1200 calorie diet, only 17g are needed! If I can stop chasing 30% of those grams of fiber, well, that makes life a LOT easier! I pulled up my SparkPeople graph of nutrients, and looking at my weekly averages for the last six months. With the goal at 25g per day, the graph looks dismal, as there is only one week where I meet that goal. When I moved the goal down to 17, I suddenly it looks lovely as there are only 3 weeks where I did not meet or well exceed that goal. That is a HUGE difference!
I’ve been beating myself up for nearly 3 years for not being able to meet my fiber needs. Turns out, my target was way too high and I’ve been exceeding it for a long time. I wish I'd have known this years ago. I could have spent a lot more time focusing on calcium, iron, and other nutrients.