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Fiber content of foods

f you examine the fiber content of foods, especially of fruits and vegetables, you may be shocked.

I was. Like most people, I have heard countless times from nutritionists, doctors and health authorities that fruits and vegetables are "high fiber foods". I believed what they said and accepted without questioning.

Then one day I came across some information on the fiber content of fruits and vegetables. I had not gone out of my way to research this topic by, for example, looking up charts that show the fiber content of foods. I just happened to walk into a supermarket that took the initiative of providing information on the fiber content of various fruits and vegetables that were only sale.

What I saw was truly eye-opening. For some fruits, the fiber content was less than 1.0 gram per serving while those that fared better may average 3 to 5 grams.

Not surprisingly, tropicals fruits that are juicy and watery tend to contain less fiber. This is common sense. But most people do not give it much thought and feel that as long as they eat some fruit, they get good amounts of fiber.

In fiber content food charts, you will see that vegetables generally contain more fiber than fruits. But in many cases, the amount is still not much, ranging from around 2 to 6 grams of fiber per serving.

So little? Many fruits and vegetables are, in fact, low fiber foods and only a few might be considered to be medium fiber foods. And if you eat fruits - or root vegetables like carrot and potatoes - without the skin, you get even less fiber. This poses a dilemma. Unless these foods have been organically grown, their skins will likely be loaded with toxic chemicals. If you remove the skin, you get less of the benefits of fiber.

Before we look at the fiber content of foods, we should also consider how much fiber we need daily. Recommendations vary. Some say 25 to 35 grams per day, others say 30 to 40 grams per day. In some rural societies average daily fiber intake could be as high as 60 grams or more.

Let's now look at some examples fo the fiber content of foods.

Fiber content of foods - FRUITS
Food Serving size Fiber (grams)
Apple 1 medium 3.5
Apricot whole 0.8
Avocado 1/2 2.8
Banana medium 2.5
Cherries 10 1.2
Figs 3 dried 10.0
Grapes 15 - 20 1.0
Honeydew melon 2-inch slice 1.0
Orange 1 medium 1.8
Peach 1 medium 2.5
Pear 1 medium 4.0
Pineapple 1 cup 1.5
Plums 2 small 1.5
Raisins 2 tbsp 2.0
Strawberries 1 cup 3.0
Watermelon 2-inch slice 0.8

Fruits alone cannot be an an adequate source of fiber. I grew up in a family that ate fair amounts of fruits, but little vegetables, no whole grains and hardly any beans, nuts and seeds, I grew up with chronic constipation and never enjoyed the benefits of fiber.

Vegetables, as mentioned earlier, generally contain more fiber than fruits, but not a lot more.

Fiber content of foods - VEGETABLES
Food Serving size Fiber (grams)
Bean sprouts 1/2 cup 1.5
Broccoli (cooked) 1/2 cup 4.5
Cabbage (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.0
Carrots (cooked) 1/2 cup 3.5
Celery (raw0 1/2 cup 4.0
Cucumber (raw) 1 cup 1.2
Endive (raw) 8 leaves 0.5
Lettuce (raw) 1 cup 0.8
Okra (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.5
Onion (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.6
Peas (green, cooked) 1/2 cup 6.5
Potatoes (cooked, mashed0 1/2 cup 3.0
Spinach (cooked) 1/2 cup 7.0
Tomato 1 small 1.5
Watercress (raw) 1/2 cup 9.0

Looking at the fiber content of vegetables, we see that they, too, are not that high in fiber. To get the required 30 or more grams of fiber a day from mainly vegetables - or from both vegetables and fruits - will mean that we need to eat quite impractical amounts.

So where to get plenty of fiber? One good source would be whole grains. Note, however, that do not give the fiber content of foods like bran cereals because these are highly artificial foods that should not be eaten, even though they might contain plenty of fiber.

Fiber content of foods - GRAINS (80 grams dry, uncooked)
Food % fiber Fiber (grams)
Amaranth 15.2 12.0
Barley 17 14.0
Brown rice 3.5 3.0
Buckwheat 10 8.0
Corn 7.3 6.0
Millet 8.5 7.0
Oats 10.6 8.5
Quinoa 5.9 4.5
Rye 14.6 11.5
Wheat 12.2 10

For the fiber content of foods like whole grains, I found that different fiber content charts give very different figures. And in some cases, the fiber content seemed rather low. After figuring out why, I have presented the information above slightly differently from others:
  1. I use dry weight instead of typical serving sizes of the cooked grain (eg 1 cup) because the cooked amount can vary greatly. Eg 1/2 cup of uncooked rice can be cooked into 1 cup of cooked rice, or as much as 4 to 5 cups of cooked rice porridge. It all depends on how much water you use for cooking, how thick or watery the final cooked dish is.

  2. I increased the serving size because I find that most charts that show the fiber content of foods, or even the "Nutritional Information" on food packaging, give ridiculously small serving sizes for whole grains - as little as 15 or 30 grams. I suspect this is because the average Westerner does not eat grains as the main food the way Asians do. The few times I ever had rice or other grains served as part of a Western meal in a restaurant, the servings were real small.

    So I checked by weighing the amount of dry rice that I would normally cook for myself and it was about 110 grams. I consider myself an "average" Asian eater as I have friends who eat much more than me, and also friends who eat much less. I then "discounted" my own amount slightly and presented the fiber content for 80 grams of uncooked, dry grains. I feel this is a more realistic "serving size". It is consistent with pasta serving guidelines, which range from 75 to 120 grams of uncooked pasta per person. If you are a big eater, you should count yourself as taking 1.5 or 2 or more servings per meal.

  3. I included information on the percentage of fiber - because I came across the information and I thought it interesting that the range is quite wide, from 3.5 percent for brown rice to 17 percent for barley. Hmmm.... now I know why barley is so chewy.

Based on the fiber content of foods like whole grains presented here, you will see that it is not difficult to meet your daily requirements of about 30 grams of fiber per day, if your diet is based around whole grains and vegetables.

And we have not yet even talked about the fiber content of foods like beans, nuts and seeds, which are also high fiber foods. You will also understand how it is possible for people in certain rural Asian societies to take as much as 60 or more grams of fiber a day. They eat plenty of whole grains and plenty of vegetables.

Note that among whole grains, brown rice actually actually has the lowest content of fiber. Yet my personal experience and the experience of many people I know is that just by switching from eating white rice to brown rice, we almost immediately feel the benefits of a high fiber diet - particular more regular bowel movement.

Click here to read more about how the fiber content of foods affect our health and well-being.

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