Fiber is an essential nutrient for promoting a healthy heart and microbiome—here's how to make sure you're getting enough every day.

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Many of us are concerned about our macronutrient intake-whether it's getting enough protein, how many carbs we should (or shouldn't) be eating, or how much fat is really healthy. But there's one essential micronutrient we are seriously overlooking-fiber! Fiber is key for a healthy digestive system, balanced blood sugar levels, heart health, chronic disease prevention, and a thriving microbiome, yet only five percent Americans get enough of it on a regular basis. (Related: How Much Fat Should You Really Eat Every Day?)

How much fiber do we need each day?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends women under 50 consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day, while men under 50 should strive for 38 grams. After the age of 50, women only need 21 grams and men need 30. This goal isn't too difficult for those who consume a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods, but 90 percent of Americans aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables. In fact, the average American only consumes one serving of fruit and 1.7 servings of vegetables each day on average, instead of the recommended minimums of two and three servings, respectively. (Related: These Benefits of Fiber Make It the Most Important Nutrient In Your Diet)

In the wake of the high-fat diet craze, it can be easy to think we should ditch fiber-rich carbs for more animal proteins and fats, but there are plenty of healthy (and delicious) fiber-rich foods that will still help you achieve your weight loss or wellness goals.

What foods are high in fiber?

Whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, are all good sources of fiber and have a lot to offer nutritionally. For example, eating one cup of legumes each day provides you with half (or more) of your daily fiber needs, and is also rich in protein, iron, and B vitamins. (Related: Why B Vitamins Are the Secret to More Energy)

Your key to achieving a higher-fiber diet is making simple swaps that pack a huge punch. For example, swapping white pasta for whole wheat (or even legume-based noodles) adds 6-13 grams of fiber to your daily roster, without having to change your meal plan.

Starting your day with a smoothie is another easy and convenient option, as a fruit, veggie, and nut-rich smoothie can add an instant (and delicious) fiber boost to your day and will actually keep you full until lunch. Fiber also promotes satiety, which makes it an excellent tool for weight loss or maintenance.

Do fiber pills or supplements help?

Our fiber-deficient diets have led to food and beverage manufacturers making all kinds of products-from granola bars to gummies-fortified with fiber to help us reach the daily recommendation. While it's best to get as much of your daily fiber intake from whole foods as possible, due to all the other benefits that go with them, Carolyn Williams PhD, RD, says these fortified foods and supplements can be a helpful boost, especially for those with heart problems, diabetes, or digestive issues. (Related: Is It Possible to Have Too Much Fiber In Your Diet?)

However, this isn't exactly true if you're eating a pack of cookies or chips with added fiber (sorry, but that doesn't magically transform it into a healthy option!)

The bottom line

Fiber can do so much-from preventing chronic disease to keeping your bathroom habits regular-and it's important that you get an adequate amount from your diet each day. If you're struggling to eat enough fiber, try this 7-Day, 1,500-Calorie, High-Fiber Meal Plant, or this Healthy High-Fiber Meal Plan, from our sister site, Eating Well.

This story originally appeared on by Lauren Wicks.