Most of us have heard that we’re supposed to eat a more plant-based diet; but we may not know all the reasons why. Yes, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are high in nutrients, and yes, they’re low in fat. But, the other important factor is that these foods provide us with essential dietary fiber.
If you’re like most Americans, you’re getting only about half the fiber you need on a daily basis.
Could be because there’s an all-too-common misconception that getting more “roughage” is akin to eating sawdust.
This just isn’t true. In fact, there are at least 21 perfectly delicious ways to get more fiber in your diet. And not one will leave the taste — or texture — of lumber by-products in your mouth. Promise.
1. Begin with breakfast.
The first meal of the day is a great opportunity to load up on both kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. What’s the difference?
Soluble fiber — What’s found in oats, barley and fruit such as apples, berries and oranges, may help lower cholesterol.
Insoluble fiber — What’s in some whole grains, nuts and vegetables, helps move things along through your digestive system.
So start your day with a bowl of whole grain cereal topped with raspberries; whole grain toast with a schmear of almond butter and apple slices; or Cinnamon-Pear Oatmeal with Toasted Walnuts. With breakfasts like these, you can easily meet 25 percent of your daily fiber requirements before getting out of your PJs.
2. Go whole grain.
When whole grain kernels are processed into white flour, they lose the fiber- and nutrient-rich bran and germ. This is similar to what happens to brown rice when it is milled and polished. So choose whole grain for fiber and more.
3. Go whole fruit, too.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a huge retail market for fruit juice out there. The bottles stacked high in your supermarket’s cooler look like elixirs of health and vitality. But in most cases, there’s an important missing ingredient: fiber. No doubt about it, fruit in its original natural packaging is better-for-you when eaten, not drunk. After all, the saying is, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” not “an apple juice box a day…” If you absolutely have to drink juice, drink it unfiltered with as much pulp as you can gulp.
4. Make room for legumes.
Eating beans and legumes isn’t the only way to get protein in your diet. But it is an easy way to get protein and fiber in the same tasty little package. (The amount of fiber in meat? A big fat zero.) Beans are bursting with fiber. The two most popular beans, pinto and black beans, have 15 grams of fiber per cup. Beans can play a supporting role in a soup, stew, or salad. Or be the headliner in a bean burger, burrito or chili.
5. Just the flax, ma’am.
Ground flaxseed is lauded as an amazing food. It’s high in both kinds of dietary fiber — soluble and insoluble. It’s also super easy to add to your diet: just grind it and sprinkle it in or on your food. It has a light, nutty flavor that mixes well with oatmeal, pancakes, yogurt, smoothies, even chili, stews and casseroles. Or use it to make healthier baked goods, like bread, muffins or scones.
6. Get nuts.
Nuts are crunchy chunks of fiber, protein, unsaturated fat and some other good things. An ounce of almonds provides 3 grams of fiber. Don’t forget all-natural nut butters for a spreadable form of fiber that can be an easy-to-use component of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
7. Meet your need for seeds.
Pumpkin seeds — or pepitas in Spanish — are considered by many seed connoisseurs to be the best tasting. Each quarter cup that you scoop out of your Halloween jack o’ lantern supplies more than three grams of fiber.
Sesame seeds are used to make tahini, a paste blended with mashed chickpeas to make high-fiber hummus, which contains about six grams of fiber in each one-quarter cup serving.
Sunflower seeds, which provide four grams of fiber per one-quarter cup, are a healthful alternative to candy bars when your only source for food might be a gas station.
8. Never say no to avocados.
The avocado may be ugly on the outside, but its beauty lies beneath that dark, wrinkly surface. How about these stats a quarter of a medium-size fruit (yes, the avocado is NOT a vegetable) contains five grams of fiber — about one-sixth of your daily requirement. Holy guacamole! Think beyond the dip and chips, though, and add avocado slices to your next soup, salad, or sandwich.
9. Include fiber in every pot.
If you’re responsible for making dinner tonight and you’ve got very little time to prep, get out your slow cooker and get going on a soup, stew or chili that’s delicious and full of fiber. Throw in some beans or legumes, leafy greens like kale or chard, lots of garlic cloves and fresh herbs, and maybe one or two bacon strips for flavor. Voila! You’ve got an easy, delicious, fiber-full meal that needs only a crusty whole-grain roll and a side-salad to complete it. Here are four recipes for one-pot wonders:
10. Sneak it in.
Some moms will do anything to get their kids to eat better. One technique, which became the basis for a couple of best-selling cookbooks, is to slip high-fiber, nutrient-rich ingredients unnoticed into some of their family's favorite dishes. You too can use stealthy strategies to add more fiber to your meals. Add grated carrots or zucchini to pasta sauce, or chopped chard or spinach to soups and stews. Puree cauliflower and stir it into macaroni and cheese. Blend pureed cannelloni beans into mayonnaise the next time you make tuna salad. Or sneak some Fiber One into your favorite baking recipes. Your secret's safe with us.
11. Scrub, don’t peel.
When you peel your fruit and vegetables, much of the fiber goes into the trash or down your sink. So trade in your vegetable peeler for a vegetable brush, and use it to scrub and clean your unpeeled carrots, potatoes, beets, apples, pears and more. Or, if you don’t think you can tolerate large unpeeled pieces, then get out your grater and shred to your heart’s content.
12. Eat ethnic.
Traditional ethnic foods are muy bueno for adding fiber to your diet. Do you like Mexican? Pile on the beans (15 grams of fiber per cup) and choose corn or whole wheat tortillas for more fiber. Or build a meal around Middle Eastern tabbouleh and hummus scooped up with whole grain pita. You can also go Asian with stir-fried vegetables and steamed brown rice sprinkled with sesame seeds. Arigatou!
13. Hydrate like heck.
Fiber needs to be accompanied by water to work its wonders on your digestive system. So don’t forget to drink. How much water do you need? The general rule of thumb is 8 to 12 glasses per day for adults. But if you’re physically active, pregnant, or nursing, you probably need even more. Read on for more info on hydration.
14. Bake some kale chips.
Kale is an amazingly nutritious leafy green that contains plenty of vitamins, minerals, and, yes, fiber: each cup of cooked kale contains two and a half grams of fiber into a scant 35 calories. But there are some — okay, many — who don’t appreciate kale’s taste/texture, which can be bitter/tough. That’s why kale chips are amazing. Kale chips turn one nutritious vegetable into a hard-to-resist snack food in less than 30 minutes. Here’s how:
- Wash and dry a bunch of kale.
- Cut ribs away from leaves and discard.
- Put leaves in bowl. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and any seasonings: sea salt, pepper, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, cajun seasoning, nutritional yeast, etc. Blend well so leaves are lightly coated.
- Spread leaves on cookie sheet and bake at 325° F for about 20 minutes, until crispy.
- Eat warm or store in an air-tight container to snack on later. Or...
- Crumble a handful of kale chips and sprinkle on home-made popcorn for another great fiber-filled snack.
15. Learn Label-ese.
If you’re looking for fiber in packaged foods, learn how to read labels. If a label says the food inside is "a good source" of fiber, that means it contains at least three grams of fiber, or about 10 percent of the Daily Value. If the label says "rich in," "high in," or an "excellent source of" fiber, that means the product provides at least five grams of fiber, or approximately 20 percent Daily Value. Of course, you can always add your own fiber to foods by mixing in ground flaxseed, chopped nuts, grated vegetables or Fiber One® cereal.
16. Invite fiber to the party.
Don’t miss out on a fiber fix just because you’ve got guests coming over. Remember, one of the benefits of high-fiber foods is that they fill you up faster, so you can get away with serving less at your book club, baby shower, or soirée. Here are three ideas to get you started:
- Scoop up hummus or a spinach-artichoke dip with sliced carrots, cucumbers, radishes, celery, green peppers or jicama.
- Serve whole-grain crackers with an exotic nut butter, like cashew, hazelnut or pistachio.
- Go south-of-the-border with pico de gallo, guacamole and bean dip served with wholegrain corn tortillas.
17. Top off a pizza.
Just because you occasionally like to treat yourself or your family to pizza doesn’t mean you have to give up your quest for more fiber. If you’re ordering one for delivery, opt for the vegetarian version. If you’re pulling one out of the freezer, add your own fresh veggies such as onions, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, garlic and olives before baking. If you’re making one from scratch, begin with a whole grain crust before piling on the produce. And for an extra boost of fiber and nutrients, serve with a large, green salad sprinkled with nuts or seeds.
18. Get creative with cookies.
Healthify your favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe by substituting half of the white flour with whole grain flour, like Gold Medal® Whole Wheat Flour; reducing the chocolate chips by half; then adding chopped nuts (think walnuts, pecans, or cashews), and/or dried fruits (raisins, cranberries or cherries work well). Now you have a sweet treat you can feel good about eating.
Don’t have time for a snack? Grab one to go and enjoy it with a glass of cold, fresh milk. Or surprise the heck out of your kids by packing one in their lunch.
19. Go-go for mangoes.
Of course you want to include a variety of fruit in your diet. But there’s something extra special about mangoes. Fresh or frozen, they contain two grams of fiber in three-quarters of a cup — and plenty of nutrients. You get beta-carotene, folate, and vitamins A and C — all in one succulent, hand-sized serving. Plus, that combination of sweet and tang with a hint of musk makes the mango a great foundation for salsas, sauces, smoothies, and soup.
20. Make a meatless meal.
Meat has no fiber, so why not build a meal around fiber-rich, plant-based foods, like vegetables and beans? Consider firing up the grill for some vegetable kabobs; make a duck-less, sausage-less, but certainly not flavor-less cassoulet; or serve a cheesy, meatless quesadilla sure to please the youngest, pickiest eaters in your family. Here are more recipes for fiber-rich, vegetarian entrees:
21. Crunch a bunch.
Maximize the crunch of fruits and vegetables by eating them raw as much as possible. But when you’d rather cook them, use a method that limit cook time to preserve nutrients, like lightly steaming, a quick stir fry or a flash braising. You can also incorporate raw food into cooked; for instance, add fresh blueberries to a bowl of oatmeal; sprinkle chopped parsley onto a plate of pasta marinara; or stir grated carrots into a bowl of clam chowder.
||Age 19 to 30
||Age 31 to 50 and younger
||Age 51 and older
*Fiber amounts are based on the Institute of Medicine recommendation of 14 grams o fiber per 1,000 calories.