Dietary fiber consists of the structural and storage polysaccharides and lignin in plants that are not digested in the human stomach and small intestine. A wealth of information supports the American Dietetic Association position that the public should consume adequate amounts of dietary fiber from a variety of plant foods. Recommended intakes, 20-35 g/day for healthy adults and age plus 5 g/day for children, are not being met, because intakes of good sources of dietary fiber, fruits, vegetables, whole and high-fiber grain products, and legumes are low. Consumption of dietary fibers that are viscous lowers blood cholesterol levels and helps to normalize blood glucose and insulin levels, making these kinds of fibers part of the dietary plans to treat cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Fibers that are incompletely or slowly fermented by microflora in the large intestine promote normal laxation and are integral components of diet plans to treat constipation and prevent the development of diverticulosis and diverticulitis. A diet adequate in fiber-containing foods is also usually rich in micronutrients and nonnutritive ingredients that have additional health benefits. It is unclear why several recently published clinical trials with dietary fiber intervention failed to show a reduction in colon polyps. Nonetheless, a fiber-rich diet is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer. A fiber-rich meal is processed more slowly, which promotes earlier satiety, and is frequently less calorically dense and lower in fat and added sugars. All of these characteristics are features of a dietary pattern to treat and prevent obesity. Appropriate kinds and amounts of dietary fiber for the critically ill and the very old have not been clearly delineated; both may need nonfood sources of fiber. Many factors confound observations of gastrointestinal function in the critically ill, and the kinds of fiber that would promote normal small and large intestinal function are usually not in a form suitable for the critically ill. Maintenance of body weight in the inactive older adult is accomplished in part by decreasing food intake. Even with a fiber-rich diet, a supplement may be needed to bring fiber intakes into a range adequate to prevent constipation. By increasing variety in the daily food pattern, the dietetics professional can help most healthy children and adults achieve adequate dietary fiber intakes.