By now, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that dietary fiber is an essential component to a healthy diet. It can help with bowel function; improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels; lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke; and more.
Increased fiber from whole grains can lower your risk of colorectal cancer too.
Fiber also plays an important role in weight management. If you struggle to follow regimented eating plans, just increasing your fiber intake can help you reach a healthier weight.
Whether your goal is to improve your health, lose weight, or maybe relieve feelings of constipation, it’s important to focus on eating foods from the five high fiber groups:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
Fiber, or “roughage,” is the part of plants your body can’t break down. When fiber makes its way through the body, it sweeps out the digestive system, pushing out cholesterol and toxins. Fiber also makes your stool size bigger and softer.
Fiber comes in two varieties, and you need both:
- Soluble fiber: It absorbs water, turns into gel during digestion, and helps you feel fuller longer. It also lowers cholesterol and glucose levels. Oats, peas, beans, and barley have it, along with apples, carrots, citrus fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Insoluble fiber: It bulks up your stool and allows it to pass quicker and easier through your digestive system. It’s found in wheat bran and whole grains, nuts, and beans and vegetables such as cauliflower and potatoes.
If you’re interested in learning how high fiber fruits and vegetables help with weight control, read this.
Ways to eat more high fiber foods
It’s best to get your daily fiber intake from food, as opposed to supplements. Food also gives you other nutritional benefits like vitamins and minerals. Fiber supplements should be used by people who can’t get enough fiber from food. (Note: If you eat fiber bars or cereals make sure they aren’t filled with added sugars.)
Below is a list of five things you can do to increase the amount of fiber you eat. Keep in mind if you currently don’t eat a lot of fiber, you should add it in your diet slowly. Until your body adjusts to it, it can cause bloating, cramps, and gas. Make sure you’re drinking at least eight cups of water daily too, as soluble fiber absorbs water.
- Substitute 100 percent whole grain products for white, refined bread or pasta. Try a new grain like barley, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, or teff as a side dish. For breakfast eat 100 percent bran flakes or oatmeal (old-fashioned oats or steel-cut oats) . Add a handful of oat or wheat bran to baked goods. For a snack, try eating air-popped popcorn. Learn more about whole grains here.
- Eat fruit at every meal or for snacks. Make sure it’s the actual fruit, not juice – whole fruit has more fiber and fewer calories. Apple, bananas, oranges, pears, and raspberries are good choices. Leave the skin on apples and pears for more fiber. Avocado (which is a fruit) is a good source of fiber and many other nutrients too.
- Increase the amount of vegetables you eat by adding more of them in your casserole, soup, or stew recipes. Acorn squash, artichokes, green peas, potatoes with the skin, and green peas are high in fiber. Keep a bag or tray of raw broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, and cauliflower to snack on. Add kale, turnips, or other greens to smoothies. If preparing fresh vegetables is a problem, use frozen vegetables – they have just as much fiber.
- Try legumes with one meal a day. Add garbanzo or kidney beans to soups and salads. Serve lentils as a side dish. Dip raw vegetables into refried bean dip. Make sandwiches with grated carrots, hummus, spinach salad, or other vegetables you like on 100 percent whole grain bread.
- Have nuts like almonds, peanuts, pistachios, and walnuts; or seeds like chia, flax, pumpkin sesame, and sunflower every day. They’ve got fiber, minerals, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Buy them in butter form and spread them on 100 percent whole grain toast. Add them in baked goods, salads and stir-fries, and smoothies or sprinkle them on cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt.
How Much Fiber to Eat Daily
On average, most Americans are getting around 15 grams of fiber daily, which is low. Men should aim to eat 30-38 grams of fiber per day, and women 21-25 grams.
Check out this chart to find out how much fiber is in foods you commonly eat and which foods are high in fiber that you might be missing out on.
(Note: A low fiber diet may be recommended for some individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases or after having gastrointestinal surgeries, so make sure to follow the recommendations of your healthcare providers regarding fiber intake.)
The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.