Selected Podcast

Fiber: Why Americans Aren't Getting Enough

Eat more fiber.

You've probably heard it before.

But do you know why fiber is so good for your health?

Selecting tasty foods that provide fiber isn't difficult.

Autumn Kumlienm a registered dietitian at Stoughton Hospital, is here to help you find out how much dietary fiber you need, the foods that contain it, and how to add them to meals and snacks.
Fiber: Why Americans Aren't Getting Enough
Featured Speaker:
Autumn Kumlien
Autumn Kumlien, BS RDN CD, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with Stoughton Hospital, with over 12 years of experience as a clinical dietitian, consultant dietitian, and instructor of nutrition at the college level. Autumn received a BS degree in Dietetics and a BS degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2002. She completed a Didactic Internship at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in May of 2003. A mother of a 7 year old daughter and 2 year old son, she finds many opportunities to get her children to eat more fruits and vegetables!

Melanie Cole (Host):  We hear so much about protein and carbohydrates but are we as Americans getting enough fiber? My guest today is Autumn Kumlien. She is a registered dietician/nutritionist at Stoughton Hospital. Welcome to the show, Autumn. Tell us, what is fiber? Where would we find it?  

Autumn Kumlien (Guest):   Fiber – we need to kind of start at the beginning - a lot of people know it as roughage. It’s that indigestible part of plant foods that pushes through our digestive system and absorbs water along the way and then helps us to easily pass bowel movements. But, also, fiber has many other good things that contribute to our health:  preventing heart disease, for example, by lower our cholesterol levels; diabetes also very preventable for that in helping to control blood sugar levels; digestive problems – adequate amounts of fiber from foods can prevent the constipation as we mentioned, but also hemorrhoids or diverticulosis. It’s also very helpful for weight gain prevention. It can help you feel fuller a lot longer and help you take in less calories overall. Fiber, we know, is an essential nutrient; however, Americans are not getting enough of it. We do recommend that women aim for about 25 grams of fiber per day while men need to target about 38 grams. If you are in the age groups of over age 51, we recommend for women 21 grams per day and men 30 grams per day. Consuming enough of it may be easier than you think. Sometimes that sounds awfully daunting – that number – but there are a great many natural food sources of fiber. We talk about fruits and vegetables as being one of the main sources but also whole grains and then the fiber that we find in our beans and lentils, nuts and seeds for example. Typically, the more refined or processed the food becomes we know that the lower the fiber content is in there. An example would be one medium apple that contains its peel would give you about 4.4 grams of fiber. If you consumed a half a cup of apple sauce, that drops it down to 1.4 grams. In relation to juice – 4 ounces of apple juice wouldn’t have any fiber at all. So, eating the whole fruit, you’re going to get the most fiber benefit. Also, adding more whole grains to your family’s meal is another smart move that you can do. Not only do they contain the fiber that we need but also the vitamins, nutrients and minerals also to help to keep you healthy. Grains – we know that there are two grains. We have our refined grains and our whole grains. We want to encourage everybody to do the whole grains because the whole grains have the bran, the germ and the endosperm all still intact. So, you get the fiber, you get the B vitamins as well as the starchy part of the grain. When we refine our grains, we strip away that bran or that fiber level. We take away the germ or the fat of the seed – the B vitamins--and all we’re left with is the white starchy part of the grain. So, we’re missing a lot of health benefits when we chose refined grains over whole grains. American Dietary Guidelines do recommend that we consume at least half of our grains as whole grains. I, typically, will encourage all of your grains. It’s not very difficult to do if you think about easy substitutions. If you typically like pasta, try to pick a whole grain pasta. If you like rice instead of white rice, pick brown rice and including, obviously, more fruits and vegetables as well.

Melanie:  Tell us a little bit, Autumn, about the different types because people hear insoluble and soluble. They hear cilium. They hear all of these different types of fiber – and in the media – fiber supplements. If they are not able to necessarily get them from the plant based products you’re discussing, what are all of these other different types and where else should they look?     

Autumn:  Typically, a lot of those are recommended for regularity when we’re talking about like the Metamucil and different things that are components in those. Definitely, the food component is going to be better because fiber from naturally and nutrition whole foods, they have not found to have the same benefits. For example, a feeling of fullness may not result if you’re taking a fiber supplement versus if you’re eating the fiber enriched food. If you’re missing out on getting your fiber from whole food sources, you’re also missing out on other essential nutrients as well. So, they key is to use those products for more regularity but still including fruits and vegetables. Then, also pushing the fluids as well because you need to make sure that you’re keep things moving along and prevent constipation. If you’re just eating a whole bunch of fiber and don’t drink water along with it or fluid, you can do the opposite effect and get constipated instead. So, definitely, the whole foods to get all of the other benefits that they provide as well.

Melanie:   They talk about foods like celery which people like to say it comes out the same way it goes in and that those certain kinds of foods are better. Tell us about those real rough fibers.  

Autumn:  Sure. Those are the indigestible fibers. So, basically, yes, they kind of go out – like corn – they come out the same way intact as they went in. “Insoluble” I should say. All of them are indigestible, but insoluble versus soluble. Those types of things are insoluble. Your body cannot break them down completely, so they do come out that way. But, yes, the more roughage has been now found, and in the past as well, but maybe more research showing it as being preventative for colorectal cancer or colon cancer. Helping to keep the colon clean and sweeping everything through there with fluids and fiber to keep a healthy GI tract which also bring us to talking a little bit about the prebiotics because the prebiotics being natural nondigestive food ingredients or fiber sources that bacteria use to survive and grow, they help the bacteria in your gut. So, they’re good bacterial promoters. They may improve GI health, as I mentioned, and potential enhanced calcium absorption and reduce that colon cancer risk. So, what they’re finding looking at even high levels of prebiotics in milk may decrease inflammation, improve immune systems and decrease your risk of colon cancer. They are looking also at other types like legumes, beans, peas and lentils to see if the prebiotics that are found in them might have the same effects. But, we are encouraging you to eat bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, whole wheat foods, obviously, soy foods, that type of thing.

Melanie:  Autumn, some people say, “Oh I can’t eat fiber because I get too gassy.” What do you say to them?    

Autumn:  Definitely increasing fiber. You need to do it gradually and, as I mentioned, with plenty of fluids. It’s kind of like a new sponge. It needs water to plump up and if you consume more than usual and not drink enough fluid, you may get gassy, constipation, nausea, all that type of thing. So, definitely, slowly. Try simple things like switching your regular refined cereal to a whole grain cereal or, instead of white bread, trying to find a whole wheat bread. That’s another thing that we need to mention, too, is some people think of it as “if it’s brown, it means whole wheat” or “if it’s white, it means that it’s refined”. That’s not always the case. You definitely do need to read the nutrition facts label to determine if that food does contain the proper amount of fiber in them. Finding the whole grain breads, for example, takes some label reading skills. But, definitely getting a variety there and, again, slowly introducing that fiber.

Melanie:  I’ve always felt that fiber is one of the dieter’s best friends. It really helps you to keep everything moving and feel full. What about snack foods – and even for children? Where can we find fiber in our snacks?

Autumn:  You can do the same thing, finding the whole grain foods. When you’re looking for crackers always look for the whole grain crackers; choosing the whole grain bread. Just because a bread is soft, again, doesn’t mean that it’s not whole grain or whole wheat. Definitely, reading those and there are a lot of great varieties out there but fruits and vegetables as being the main thing, especially with children. We do worry about that with vegan children. If they are really bulking up on all of these really high fiber foods and they are filling up awfully fast and they might not have room for all of the nutrients that they need. So, again, doing so in moderation, but including fruits and vegetables as their main core and the whole grain crackers and that type of thing with their food and their meals.

Melanie:  In just the last few minutes, Autumn--and its such great advice--give us the best advice about incorporating more fiber into our diets as we do not get enough as a society and the best ways that we can do it and why should they come to Stoughton Hospital for their nutrition care?    

Autumn:  Alright. Simple things that you can do for your family are, obviously, starting with breakfast. Choose that fiber rich whole grain breakfast cereal. You can do oatmeal or whole grain toast. Check the fiber per serving. The more fiber is going to make you feel fuller longer. We do recommend 2 grams of dietary fiber or more per 100 calories. That is kind of a good rule of thumb. Again, choosing whole grains over the refined grains, when you’re choosing breads, buns, bagels, tortillas, pastas, etc., experiment with different grains. Try buckwheat or bulgur or millet or quinoa or whole rye or barley, for example. You can use them in lots of side dishes and, again, choosing the whole grain as snacks. Three cups of whole grain air-popped popcorn contains 3.5 grams of fiber and only 95 calories. So, that’s an easy substitution; or, whole wheat crackers or rye crackers. So, doing all of those things and the lovely things that are also natural that we talked about like fruits and vegetables and berries; avocados and nuts and seeds, and beans – all of those great sources of fiber. I hope that people get some good information here and do come to Stoughton Hospital for your nutrition talks and your wellness tips. 

Melanie:   Fantastic. It’s such great advice. Thank you so much for being with us. You’re listening to Stoughton Hospital Health Talk and for more information you can go to That’s  This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.