Fiber is critical to our daily diet

"If you have magazines in your bathroom, you're not getting enough fiber in your diet."

That phrase is often used by a popular local nutritionist, Linda Willis ( It typically generates a big chuckle from the listening audience. Laughter is usually followed by thoughtful silence.

Most of us don't get it — enough fiber that is. According to the Institute of Medicine, the average over-50 male needs 30 grams of fiber a day (50-plus women need 21 grams). Most of us get 11-12 grams a day (older adults with a sweet tooth and/or soft food preferences may get far less).

Here's another way to think about it. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University found people who ate a medium-sized, skin-on apple before lunch (approximately 80-100 calories and four grams of fiber) consumed notably fewer calories in a given day. Let it be noted that applesauce and apple juice did not have the same effect.

The findings were interpreted to mean that the work it took to bite into and chew the apple, and the time involved in eating it, prompted people to think they had eaten more than they thought — and as a result they ended up eating less. But I have another theory. I think those results had more to do with the fiber content in that little apple than the time it takes to chew and swallow it. Or maybe it's all of the above. Moving on "¦

As we age, getting enough fiber is critically important. Experts who speak about adequate fiber consumption (which I do not purport to be — I'm just curious) would, at this point, introduce the concept of soluble and insoluble fiber. I'm not going there — but you could. If you have a magazine-strewn bathroom and/or you're cholesterol is a little high, I'd strongly advise it. Resources for health information include and

By the way, apples contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.

I believe there are three important things involved in eating and aging. First, as we age we need less food (about 30 percent less than we did when we were younger).

Second, we need more colorful, antioxidant-packed food. And finally, we should eat food that moves through our digestive system at a nice clip. That small to medium-sized apple, skin-on, eaten slowly, chewed well, might be an almost-perfect food.

Just for comparison, pale, pasty-looking packaged cookies have zilch in terms of fiber. Well that's not always true — they have as much fiber as the nutritional label on the side of the package says they have (which can be very close to zilch).

And so it goes. And sometimes it doesn't. You don't "¦ go. Regularly, I mean. As you have by now realized, I'm tackling a topic not typically discussed in your morning newspaper column. It's the having-enough-fiber-in-your-diet-so-you're-healthy-and-don't-get-constipated topic. Here's the "bottom line."

What we eat affects our health and how we feel about life on any given day. Feeling lethargic, a little cranky? It might be related to not getting enough fiber in your diet. Start slowly — an apple a day perhaps? (Who knows, later on you might even consider moving those magazines.)

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human services at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

Share This Story