Less than 5 percent of Americans consume enough fiber regularly, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, some adults have only half of the amount of daily fiber recommended by the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board. A 2009 study published in the "Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics" pointed out that a diet rich in fiber is just as important for the elderly as it is for younger adults. If you're over 70 years old and concerned about your fiber intake, talk to your doctor about ways to get more fiber into your daily meals.
Eating plenty of fiber may lower an elderly person's risk of high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, obesity and heart disease. There are two types of fiber -- soluble and insoluble fiber -- and a diet rich in both can help the elderly avoid certain medical problems. A high intake of soluble fiber is linked to a decreased risk of diabetes and high blood cholesterol. Insoluble fiber can help the elderly avoid digestive disorders, including two of the most common digestive conditions suffered by older people: diverticulosis and constipation.
Recommended Daily Intake
The Food and Nutrition Board says that you should have approximately 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume daily. After age 70, a man who takes in between 1,800 and 2,200 calories daily should have approximately 30 grams of total dietary fiber per day. A woman of the same age, who consumes between 1,300 and 1,600 calories each day, needs about 21 grams of daily fiber. Elderly people who are more or less physically active than average or who have special medical considerations may need a different amount of fiber per day.
To get enough fiber, elderly people need to include plenty of plant-based foods in their diets, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. The richest sources of fiber are foods that provide 4 grams or more in every serving. Some examples are beans such as kidney or black beans, green peas and wheat bran. The elderly should also aim to consume foods high in both types of fiber each day. Large amounts of soluble fiber can be found in oat bran, fruit like oranges or apricots and beans, while barley, wheat germ, turnips, beans and raspberries contain a high concentration of insoluble fiber.
Some elderly people may have trouble getting enough fiber from diet alone. An article published in "Practical Gastroenterology" in 2003 recommended that these individuals may need to use a commercial fiber preparation that provides fiber from ingredients like psyllium, methyl cellulose or calcium polycarbophil in the form of a powder or tablet. Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist Dr. Michael F. Picco says that fiber supplements are safe, but that it's always better to obtain fiber from food instead of supplements whenever possible. Don't start using any type of fiber supplement until you've spoken to your doctor. If you do take a supplement, be sure to drink 8 ounces of water with each dose and to have at least six to eight glasses of water during the day to prevent constipation and other digestive problems.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001-2002: Usual Nutrient Intakes From Food Compared to Dietary Reference Intakes
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fiber - Start Roughing It!
- Harvard School of Public Health: Daily Fiber Requirements
- Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics: Nutrition in the Elderly - Role of Fiber
- Nutrition Reviews: Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- Vegetarian Times: Ask the Nutritionist - How Much Fiber Do I Really Need?
- CareFocus Companion Services: Seniors & Fiber - Understanding the Basics
- Practical Gastroenterology: Dietary Fiber - Its Role in Older Adults
- MayoClinic.com: Fiber Supplements - Safe to Take Every Day?
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.