Updated: Oct 20, 2020
If you’re like most Americans, your diet is woefully short on fiber, the powerful nutrient that has so many health benefits.
An indigestible part of plants, fiber helps normalize bowel movements by bulking up your stool and binding the other foods to make passing them easier, preventing colon cancer and other diseases of the bowel by acting as a probiotic in the large intestine. Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels by binding to fats in the bloodstream and helps control your blood sugar by lowering the glycemic index of the food or meal. Fiber has been studied to aid in weight loss and help maintain a healthy weight, due to the fact that high fiber foods tend to be lower in calories, give the sensation of satiety (fullness), and alter hormone secretion and nutrient absorption in the gut (more food passed through instead of being stored as fat). No wonder fiber-rich foods, such as pulses (beans, lentils, peas), whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds have been linked with so many health rewards, including reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancers.
There are two basic types of fiber found in nature, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and is the kind of fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve, and helps bulk up stool, for easier passing of food. Good sources of soluble fiber are vegetables, legumes (such as beans and lentils), oats, fruit, and barley.
Insoluble fiber sources are whole wheat and corn bran, and vegetables (such as potato, parsnip, cauliflower, especially in the skins). If you choose to supplement, the best fiber choices are psyllium fibers, but supplements miss out on many of the benefits of whole foods such as vitamins and minerals, and bioavailability; however, fiber supplements like the powders you add to water, can help people who are having trouble increasing fiber in their diet, or that have constipation. Also, don’t be fooled by fruit juices, just because they say 100% fruit doesn't mean they have the same fiber as the fruit, in the processing of these products most of the fiber is filtered out, basically leaving you with naturally flavored sugar-water.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that people under 50 years old have 38g of fiber a day for men and 25g a day for women. For people over 50 years that decreases to 30g for men and 21g for women. Surprisingly, most Americans do not meet these recommendations. The average American consumes 17 g of fiber per day.
How can you fuel your diet with the fiber your body needs? Here are 4 simple steps!
1. Get Beany. Add beans to soup, salads, and the majority of my crockpot recipes. They add tons of fiber and more protein to the dish. Rinse canned beans under running water to reduce the sodium by 35%!
2. Fill Your Plate with Plants. If you follow the new Food Guide Pyramid, MyPlate, ½ of your plate is filled with vegetables and fruits, which provide fiber, as well as choosing whole grains. I personally add ground flax seeds to my oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies as another easy way to add heart-healthy fat and fiber to your diet.
3. Check Yourself. Try to always ask yourself these questions: 1. Is this a whole grain? Leaving the bran and germ intact increases both nutrients and fiber. 2. Could I add beans to this? Legumes are an excellent way to increase fiber, protein and other key nutrients. They also increase satiety, keeping you satisfied longer. Add them to salads, pastas, soups, tofu scrambles, wraps, etc. 3. Can I add another vegetable? It’s a good idea to keep shredded or diced vegetables on hand for additional fiber and nutrients here and there, like extra pizza toppings, a quick stir fry, building a better sandwich. Keep 3-4 airtight containers on hand and rotate which veggies you use to prevent boredom
4. Eat Real Food. If you are eating real food that is mostly unprocessed throughout the day you will have no problem hitting your fiber goal!
What does a day of recommended fiber look like for a 40 year old woman?
Breakfast: 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal with 1 cup raspberries and 1/2 cup plain yogurt = ~10g fiber Lunch: 1/2 cup pinto beans, 2 corn tortillas, 1/4 cup cheese, 1/2 cup lettuce, 1 tomato = ~14g fiber Snack: medium apple with one ounce almonds = ~8g fiber Dinner: one cup cooked whole wheat spaghetti, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, grilled chicken breast = ~9g fiber Total: about 39 grams of fiber! That’s more than recommended, and it wasn’t hard.
If your current diet does not include much fiber, increase your intake slowly. Increasing fiber intake too quickly can lead to digestive upset, constipation, bloating, and gas. Increasing your fiber with food you think tastes great is a simple way to help you get on a healthy track.
The Ultimate High Fiber Grocery List!
Fruits and Vegetables
Apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries all have around 3 to 4 grams of fiber. (Eat the apple peels -- that’s where the most fiber is!)
Raspberries win the fiber race at 8 grams per cup.
Exotic fruits are also good sources of fiber: A mango has 5 grams, a persimmon has 6, and 1 cup of guava has about 9.
Dark-colored vegetables. In general, the darker the color of the vegetable, the higher the fiber content. Carrots, beets, and broccoli are fiber-rich. Collard greens and Swiss chard have 4 grams of fiber per cup. Artichokes are among the highest-fiber veggies, at 10 grams for a medium-sized one.
Potatoes. Russet, red, and sweet potatoes all have at least 3 grams of fiber in a medium-sized spud, if you eat the skin and all.
Dry and Canned Goods
Stock up on beans. Navy and white beans are the most fiber-rich, but all beans are fiber-packed. Any of these is a good choice for your shopping cart: garbanzo, kidney, lima, or pinto beans. They make great soups and chilis, and are a flavorful addition to salads. Beans are also high in protein, so if you’re cutting back on red meat, they’re a healthy, filling substitute.
Include other legumes. Peas, soybeans (edamame), and lentils are also high in fiber.
Bread and Grains
Check cereal labels. Most cereals have at least some fiber content, but they’re not all created equal. Any cereal with 5 or more grams of fiber per serving is a good source.
Whole-grain breads. Seven-grain, dark rye, cracked wheat, and pumpernickel breads are good choices.
Whole grains, Bulgur wheat, brown rice, wild rice, and barley are all tasty substitutions for white rice.
The Snack Aisle
Nuts and seeds. An ounce of of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, or almonds gives you at least 3 grams of fiber. They are also high in calories, though, so make a little go a long way.
Popcorn . Three cups of air-popped popcorn have about 4 grams of fiber.