Fiber can help lower cholesterol, prevent constipation, and improve digestion. And Americans don't eat enough of it. On average, we get less than half of what we need. Most whole grains are a great source of fiber. Start with breakfast: Look for whole-grain cereal or oatmeal with 3 or more grams of fiber per serving. Add fruit and you'll be on your way to the daily goal of 38 grams for men under 50 and 25 grams for women under 50.
Any fresh fruit is a healthy snack. But when it comes to fiber, all fruits are not created equal. One large Asian pear has a whopping 9.9 grams of it. Other high-fiber fruits include raspberries (4 grams per 1/2 cup), blackberries (3.8 grams per 1/2 cup), bananas (3.1 for one medium sized), and blueberries (2 grams per 1/2 cup). Pears and apples -- with the skin on -- are also good choices.
Keep the grains coming. For lunch, eat a sandwich on whole-grain bread. Or dip whole-grain crackers into your favorite healthy spread. Whole grain means it includes all parts of the grain -- and that gives you all the nutrients. Studies show that adding whole grains and other high-fiber foods to your diet may also reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Artichoke hearts, green peas, spinach, corn, broccoli, and potatoes are high-fiber veggies. But all vegetables have some. To boost your fiber intake, add veggies to omelets, sandwiches, pastas, pizza, and soup. Try adding interesting ones -- such as beets, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, or celeriac -- to a salad or other meals.
Prunes are well known for their ability to help digestion. That's in part because of their high fiber content. The roughage can help regulate bowel movements and relieve constipation. Most dried fruits are loaded with fiber. Try having a handful of dried figs, dates, raisins, or dried apricots as a snack. Or chop them up and sprinkle on top of cereal or whole-grain dishes.
From adzuki to Great Northern, beans are high in fiber and protein, and low in fat. Try eating them instead of meat twice a week. Use them in soups, stews, salads, and casseroles, and with egg, rice, and pasta dishes. For a healthy snack, boil edamame beans for 4 minutes and sprinkle with salt. Be sure to wash down the fiber you eat with plenty of liquid to avoid constipation and gas.
Related to beans, lentils and peas are high in fiber and protein and low in fat, too. Lentils cook more quickly than most other legumes and are a favorite in soups and stews. You can add cooked chickpeas to salads, or blend them to make hummus.
Many people steer clear of nuts and seeds because they tend to be high in calories and fat. But they can be a great source of fiber and other nutrients. A 1/4 cup of sunflower seed kernels, for example, has 3.9 grams of fiber. One ounce of almonds has 3.5 grams. Try adding chopped nuts or seeds to salads, cereal, or yogurt. Or enjoy a handful of roasted nuts or seeds for a healthy afternoon snack.
Enjoy brown rice instead of white with your meal. Or try whole-grain noodles. For something different, make a dish with millet, quinoa, or bulgur -- whole grains that are packed with fiber. Worried that grains cause weight gain? Adding fiber to your diet can actually help prevent it by making you feel fuller longer. These foods also require more chewing -- giving your body more time to feel full.
The seed of the flax plant can be an excellent source of fiber, giving you 2.8 grams per tablespoon. Flaxseed is often used as a laxative, but studies show that it also may help reduce cholesterol levels and decrease hot flashes. Add whole or ground flaxseeds to breads or other baked goods. Or sprinkle ground flaxseed into a smoothie or onto cooked vegetables.
If you can't work another serving of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, or whole grains into your diet, consider eating a food enriched with fiber. You can find cereal, snack bars, toaster pastries, pasta, and yogurt fortified with it.
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- American Academy of Family Physicians.
- American Diabetes Association.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, American Dietetic Association spokesperson.
- Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
- National Institutes of Health, News in Health.
- Sari Greaves, RD, American Dietetic Association spokesperson.
- USDA Nutrient Database.