Most people don't get enough fiber. Here are 6 easy ways to add it to your diet.

Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, fruits and whole grains. (Getty Images)

Fiber is one of the most overlooked nutrients in the American diet, despite its vital role in health. According to the 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), more than 95% of women and 97% of men are not meeting their daily fiber recommendations. In fact, the average American meets only about 58% of daily fiber recommendations. Yet, as Rhyan Geiger, a plant-based dietitian at Phoenix Vegan Dietitian tells Yahoo Life: “Fiber is a powerhouse for our health.” It’s a key player in helping us stay full and provides numerous health benefits, such as improving digestion, enhancing gut health and promoting regular bowel movements.

Fiber also helps manage certain health conditions by stabilizing blood sugar levels and lowering LDL, aka “bad,” cholesterol, therefore reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer.

With most American adults missing out on enough fiber-rich vegetables, fruits and whole grains, Yahoo Life asked dietitians for their top tips on how you can better meet your fiber needs.

Fiber is the indigestible part of a plant and comes in two main types: soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber, found in oats, apples, beans and psyllium husk, dissolves in water and forms a gel, which helps slow down digestion, lower cholesterol and better manage blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber, found in whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, seeds and fruits with edible peels, adds bulk to your stool and helps food pass through your digestive tract.

While fiber is abundant in plant-based foods, experts say there are several reasons why people don’t get enough. Fruits and vegetables are often overlooked because of personal taste preferences, time constraints or lack of access. Meanwhile, convenience, fast casual and restaurant foods typically lack high-fiber options, especially in the form of whole grains, according to dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus, founder of and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. A commonly held fear of carbohydrates, plus trendy diets that eliminate fiber-rich grains, contribute to the fiber deficit.

As Sarah Schlichter, dietitian and family nutrition expert of Bucket List Tummy, tells Yahoo Life: “Carbs are not created equal, and carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and pulses, are some of the main sources of fiber in the diet.”

The 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories, which is about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men up to age 50. For adults over 51 years of age, daily fiber recommendations lower to 22 grams for women and 28 grams for men.

As with most nutrients, the exact amount of fiber varies depending on an individual's needs. For instance, some people with certain gastrointestinal conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome or an intestinal obstruction, may need less fiber, while others, including pregnant or very active people, may need more.

Harris-Pincus tells Yahoo Life, “Choosing foods naturally high in fiber such as fruit, veggies, nuts, beans, seeds and whole grains is the best way to up your intake while also benefiting from the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients in these nutrient-rich choices.” Here are dietitians’ favorite tips for adding more fiber to your diet:

  • Start the day with oatmeal or another high-fiber cereal. Not only does a cup of cooked oatmeal have 4 grams of fiber, according to Schlichter, adding fiber-rich toppings — such as fruit, nuts like walnuts and almonds, or seeds, including chia, flax and pumpkin — can boost the amount of fiber and other nutrients, including protein and healthy fats, in your bowl.

  • Befriend beans (and all legumes). “Canned beans are a budget-friendly fiber superstar,” says Schlichter. Just half a cup of canned beans can add 5 to 9 grams of fiber to your diet. They’re extremely versatile and can be added to dishes like salads, stir-fries, smoothies and tacos. Geiger suggests adding mashed beans to oatmeal for a powerhouse breakfast. But if you prefer crunchy snacks, Harris-Pincus recommends trying roasted chickpeas or edamame, which have about 5 grams of fiber per ⅓ cup.

  • Opt for whole grains. “Swapping white pasta for whole wheat pasta, or even adding half of a legume-based pasta to your favorite pasta, can help to increase fiber intake as well,” says Schlichter. Whole grains include the entire seed and bran, meaning they pack more protein and fiber than grains that go through the refining process.

  • Try a meatless meal. Since fiber is mostly found in plant-based foods, Geiger recommends having a plant-based meal a few times a week to help increase the amount of vegetables eaten. Choose a lentil chili, a portobello mushroom burger on a whole grain bun, or a tofu, broccoli and quinoa stir fry.

  • Snack on fruits and veggies. It’s generally recommended to add them to your meals. However, Schlichter recommends taking advantage of snacks to get in more fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables. Try pineapple with cottage cheese, bell pepper slices and ranch dressing, or apples with peanut butter. Small but mighty, berries — such as raspberries and blackberries — pack 8 grams of fiber per cup.

  • Drink your fiber. If you’re struggling to meet your fiber needs through food, consider drinking a lower-sugar prebiotic soda like Olipop, which provides 9 grams of prebiotic fiber, only 2 to 5 grams of sugar and a maximum of 50 calories per can. “This is an excellent source of fiber to help you reach your goals while enjoying a refreshing beverage,” says Harris-Pincus.

“Fiber is one nutrient where a little can go a long way,” notes Schlichter. “Getting enough fiber can make a big difference in how you feel, as well as overall health.”

But before you jump in, experts recommend gradually adding more fiber to your meals. “If you are not used to including fiber-rich foods in your daily diet, start slowly to allow your tummy to adapt and avoid any GI upset,” Harris-Pincus cautions. Geiger recommends adding around five additional grams daily. Adding too much fiber too quickly can lead to bloating, gas, abdominal cramping and constipation. Also, make sure to get enough water to help with digestion.

Maxine Yeung is a dietitian and board-certified health and wellness coach.