The push is on to eat more fiber, and for good reason. A fiber-rich diet may help protect against heart disease, stroke, diverticulosis and constipation. It may help lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. And it can help you control your weight.
Fiber is found in fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. As your body breaks down other carbohydrates, fiber, a carbohydrate the body can't digest, flows through. It helps keep your blood sugar in control and keep you feeling full longer. Yet most Americans get less than half of the recommended fiber per day — 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. A diet low in plant-based foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains has caused us to fall short of our fiber goals.
If you are on a fiber-restricted diet, follow your doctor's instructions for fiber intake.
Where fiber comes from
Fiber-rich foods fall into five main categories: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes and nuts. Use these foods as your starting point and add in lean proteins and healthy fats for a well-rounded, nutritious meal plan.
Types of fiber
There are two main types of food-based fiber: soluble and insoluble. Experts recommend you eat foods with both types.
- Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol, as well as help lower blood sugar levels. Certain fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, oats and barley are good sources
- Insoluble fiber aids your body in digestion. Insoluble fiber also relieves constipation. Wheat, brown rice, beans and many fruits and vegetables are good sources.
Boosting your fiber intake
Increase fiber in your diet gradually to give your body time to adjust. This cuts bloating and gas. Also, drink more water and fluids. If you are on a fluid restricted diet, talk to your doctor about the amount of fluids that is suitable for you. Here are some ideas to help you add more fiber to your diet.
Fruits and vegetables
Most produce contains three to four grams of fiber per serving.
- Add grapes, mandarin oranges and red onions to a salad.
- Eat whole foods when you can. An apple with skin on it has more fiber than apple juice or applesauce.
- Create veggie-based meals like winter squash stuffed with brown rice.
- Puree veggies in a blender and add to soups.
- Mix fruits like strawberries, blueberries, kiwi or mango into green salads. Make a main dish by adding grilled chicken breast.
- Blend fruits or veggies with low-fat or fat-free yogurt and fruit juice for a breakfast smoothie.
Dried beans, peas and lentils
Legumes are loaded with fiber, containing five to eight grams per half cup. Try lentils, black-eyed peas, split peas, chickpeas or black, pinto, navy, kidney or lima beans as the basis of your meal.
- Make lentil or bean soups.
- Add chickpeas to your salad.
- Puree beans and add them to soup or tomato sauce for thickening.
- Try hummus, a chickpea-based spread, on whole-wheat pita bread or as a vegetable dip.
- Serve cold bean salad as a side dish. Mix black beans, corn and red pepper in a light vinaigrette.
Americans consume lots of bread, buns, rolls and pizza crust made from refined flour. These are not the best sources of dietary fiber. A better choice would be whole grains. Whole grains vary in fiber content, anywhere from three to seven grams of fiber per serving.
- Try different grains — like brown rice, quinoa, kasha, bulgur or barley — in place of white rice.
- Opt for whole-wheat or blended whole-wheat pasta.
- Look for 100 percent whole-wheat or whole-grain bread with three grams of fiber per slice and no more than five grams of sugar.
- Snack on low-fat popcorn instead of pretzels or chips.
- Enjoy oatmeal for breakfast and use oats as a casserole filling or topper.
- Switch from white to whole-wheat flour for baking.
- Try whole-grain tortillas or pitas when cooking ethnic foods.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are high in calories, so keep portions to an ounce or two per day. An ounce of nuts contains about two to three-and-a-half grams of fiber.
- Add small serving of walnuts or almonds to your morning hot or cold cereal.
- Sprinkle ground flax seed on cereal, low-fat or fat-free yogurt or cottage cheese. Or add it to casseroles or mix it into pancake batter or quick breads.
If you're having a hard time adding fiber to your diet, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking a fiber supplement. He or she can tell you if this may be an option for you. Keep in mind that supplements should not replace fiber-rich foods in your diet. But a supplement may help you get enough fiber now, as you work your way to a diet with adequate fiber.
Created on 02/20/2007
Updated on 10/29/2013
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.
- American Heart Association. Planning high fiber meals. The fiber factor.
- Harvard School of Public Health. The nutrition source. Fiber.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It’s about eating right. Health implications of dietary fiber.