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Research reveals the average American isn't eating nearly enough of one essential nutrient: 'Alarmingly low'

Many health officials consider it a public health concern.

Many health officials consider it a public health concern.

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists and nutritionists have been sounding the alarm on the average American's sorely inadequate fiber intake for years, but unfortunately, most people still aren't eating enough of this vital "super-nutrient." 

A 2021 study by the American Society for Nutrition found that only 7% of Americans get the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber —  25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.

What's happening?

Many health officials consider Americans' "alarmingly low" fiber consumption a public health concern, with some nutritionists referring to it as the "fiber gap."

According to the ASN's research, health guidelines recommend a daily target of 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. However, their study found that, on average, women ate 9.9 grams per 1,000 calories, and men consumed 8.7 grams per 1,000 calories.

Instead of filling their plates with high-fiber foods, Americans are eating more protein, but some researchers say they're eating far more than necessary. As Vox reported, Americans eat roughly twice the amount of protein recommended by the USDA. 

While we need protein to help build and repair the body's tissues, support metabolic and immune system health, provide energy, and more, it's important to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fiber as well. 

"People are so busy avoiding carbs, they forget that these foods give [them] important dietary components," nutritionist Julie Jones of St. Catherine University told Vox.

Why is Americans' low fiber intake concerning?

As Vox explained, eating a fiber-rich diet provides numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol, and certain cancers. 

Former Vox senior health correspondent Julia Belluz explained the many benefits of fiber in an interview with Vox, calling it "amazingly helpful in many ways: It slows the absorption of glucose — which evens out our blood sugar levels — and also lowers cholesterol and inflammation." 

Unfortunately, studies show 60% of the calories Americans eat daily come from ultra-processed foods, which tend to have very little or no fiber. By replacing fiber with excessive protein, we become more susceptible to diseases and poor gut health since fiber promotes good bacteria

In addition to being bad for our health, eating too much protein is also harming the planet, as animal agriculture takes up nearly 40% of the planet's habitable land while producing only 37% of the world's protein. It also accounts for 10-20% of global planet-warming pollution, as Vox reported

What can I do to get more fiber?

Fortunately, it's fairly easy to get more fiber in your diet by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. For instance, as the Harvard School of Public Health explained, a cup of lentils has about 15 grams of fiber, putting you well on your way to meeting the daily recommendation. 

Many plant-based foods like tofu, beans, lentils, and grains also have a decent amount of protein, keeping you full while lowering your risk of diseases. 

Other fiber-rich foods to try include kidney beans, chickpeas, chia seeds, oats, avocados, and broccoli. The best option where possible is to grow your own food, which can save thousands over a decade and reduce resources involved in transporting and packaging food.

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