Let’s face it: Fiber sounds like something tasteless, and boring. But fiber, that good stuff in plant foods that may not get fully digested or absorbed, is anything but boring when you see what it can do for your health.
Why You Need It
There are two types of fiber: soluble (oats, barley, psyllium, legumes, many fruits and vegetables, nuts) and insoluble (wheat bran, oat bran, corn bran, whole wheat, many vegetables and the skins of some fruits, legumes). Foods that are good sources of soluble fiber may contain insoluble fiber, too, and vice versa. You need both kinds of fiber for overall better health.
Soluble fiber, which breaks down in water, helps lower blood cholesterol and may help improve blood glucose levels. Insoluble fiber is good for digestion. It helps soften stools and speeds the travel time of waste through the colon. It may help to reduce your risk of constipation, diverticular disease, and colon cancer.
Fiber-rich foods may be lower in calories and fat than other options. They may help you feel full, so you’re less likely to overeat or snack between meals. And they often take longer to chew, which may help you slow down at meals and eat fewer calories.
Fiber doesn’t act alone in promoting good health, which is why it’s important to get most of your fiber from food instead of supplements, says Karen Collins, MS, RD, a nutrition adviser to the American Institute for Cancer Research. “In studies, it’s hard to identify whether it’s the fiber per se that promotes good health or whether it’s high-fiber foods and the various antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals they contain,” she says.
12 Delicious Ways to Fiber Up
Americans simply aren’t getting their fair share of fiber. According to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, the daily fiber needs for adults age 50 and younger are 25 grams for women and 38 g for men. For women and men older than 50, the recommended intake is 21 g for women and 30 g for men. Yet most Americans get about half the recommended amount. The good news: You can increase your fiber intake by making a few easy changes.
- Begin your day with a cereal made with whole grain that contains at least 3 g to 5 g of fiber. Top with berries or banana for a fiber boost.
- Use legumes (beans) and veggies as a meat substitute when you can. Add vegetables to marinara sauce in place of ground meat. Use beans instead of meat in burritos, tacos, and chili, and serve with brown rice.
- Look for the words whole wheat, whole oats and bran on ingredients labels.
- Add small amounts of almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and soy nuts to salads, veggies, cereals, and yogurt. Eat a handful of low-salt mixed nuts as a snack. Nuts are filling but high in fat, so watch portion sizes.
- Serve stir-fried veggies over brown rice.
- Snack on broccoli florets, carrot coins, red and green pepper slices, and other fresh-cut vegetables with a low-fat dip.
- Eat apples, oranges, and other whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice, which has less fiber.
- Order your next pizza with a whole wheat crust, or buy crust made with whole grain and make your own pizza with veggie toppings.
- Switch to whole wheat pasta. If your family protests the pasta switcharoo, ease them into the change with pasta that’s part whole grain.
- Make beans a complement to almost any dish. Add beans to stews and salads. Toss them with pasta and olive oil. Make a bean puree and add it to soups for a thick and creamy base. Note: Drain and rinse canned beans before use to lower sodium content.
- Switch to crackers made with whole grain instead of regular versions.
- Serve hummus (pureed chickpeas) with whole wheat pita bread or use it as a tasty veggie dip.