Many people seem to believe that the only benefit of taking in enough dietary fiber is staying “regular.” While this is certainly one benefit, fiber has many other qualities that make it one of the most important nutrients to include in a daily diet. In addition to promoting regular bowel movements, eating a variety of fiber-rich foods can help to:
• Lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
• Regulate blood sugar levels
• Support digestive health
• Promote a sense of “fullness” that can aid in weight loss
• Help lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease
What is Fiber?
Fiber comes from plant foods—specifically from the structural part of plants that cannot be fully digested by the human gut—and comes in two types: soluble and insoluble. Many plant foods contain a mixture of both types, but each type helps the body in different ways, so it’s best to eat a variety of fiber-rich foods.
Soluble fiber absorbs water in the digestive tract, forming a gel-like substance in the intestines. This substance binds to cholesterol and carries it out of the body in the form of stool, preventing its absorption into the blood. Eating just 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day can help lower a person’s LDL cholesterol levels.
By absorbing water, soluble fiber also helps to create softer stools that pass more easily through the digestive tract, preventing constipation. Soluble fiber also helps you feel full for longer periods of time.
Since fiber is not absorbed well by the body, it does not contribute to spikes in blood sugar levels. It can also help to slow the absorption of sugar from other foods, making it an important component in regulating blood sugar levels.
Food Sources of Soluble Fiber
Food Serving Size Soluble Fiber (grams)
Oatmeal (cooked) 1 cup 4
Mango 1 small 3.4
Black beans ½ cup 2.4
Oat bran cereal (cooked) ¾ cup 2.2
Brussels sprouts ½ cup 2
Apricots (fresh) 4 1.8
Orange 1 small 1.8
Flaxseed (ground) 1 tablespoon 1.1
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools, helping to move waste through the body and prevent constipation. It also promotes weight loss by helping you feel full for longer periods of time, helping you avoid overeating.
Food Serving Size Insoluble Fiber (grams)
Wheat bran ½ cup 11.3
Black beans ½ cup 3.7
Pear (fresh, with skin) 1 large 3.6
Green peas ½ cup 3
Raspberries 1 cup 2.4
Flaxseed (ground) 1 tablespoon 2.2
Barley (cooked) ½ cup 2.2
Sweet potato (without skin) ½ cup 2.2
Whole wheat pasta (cooked) ½ cup 2.1
Apple (fresh, with skin) 1 small 1.8
Banana 1 small 1.6
How Much Fiber Do We Need?
In general, you should try to get about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat. For more specific guidelines by age and gender, however, see the figures below:
1-3 years: About 19 grams/day
4-50 years: About 25 grams/day
Older than 50 years: About 21 grams/day
1-3 years: About 19 grams/day
4-8 years: About 25 grams/day
9-13 years: About 31 grams/day
14-50 years: About 38 grams/day
Older than 50 years: About 30 grams/day
Simple Ways to Increase Your Fiber Intake
With just a little planning and by making some healthy choices about the foods you eat, you can easily add additional fiber to your diet each day:
• Choose whole grains or products with whole grains as the first ingredient (such as oats, barley, quinoa, wild rice).
• Choose lean protein sources that also provide fiber (such as beans, nuts, chickpeas).
• Eat whole fruits and vegetables instead of drinking juices.
• Choose vegetables that are high in soluble fiber (such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans, carrots).
• Add fiber “extras” (such as raisins, nuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and dried beans) to common dishes.
What about Fiber Supplements?
Research has shown that low fiber intake is associated with certain health risks. Nevertheless, only about 5 percent of the adult population in the United States gets the recommended amount of dietary fiber. To help make up for that shortfall, fiber supplements may be useful. However, while supplements are a convenient, concentrated source of fiber, be careful not to rely on them too much—most supplements do not provide the same health benefits as those derived from fiber that comes from food.
If you do decide to take a fiber supplement, be sure to select one that contains soluble fiber. Psyllium is a form of fiber that is rich in soluble fiber and may promote bowel regularity, as well as lower LDL cholesterol and aid in blood sugar control.
Taking excessive fiber supplements can cause bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort, so in general you should get no more than 10 grams of fiber per day from supplements. Use supplements only if you’re unable to get the recommended amount of fiber through the whole foods you consume.
Roasted, Spiced Sweet Potato Fries
Total time: 45 minutes
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds medium sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Coarsely grind coriander, fennel, oregano and red pepper flakes in an electric coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Stir together spices and salt.
3. Cut the unpeeled potatoes lengthwise into 1-inch wedges.
4. Toss the wedges with the oil and spices in a large roasting pan and roast in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Turn the wedges over with a spatula and roast until they’re tender and slightly golden, 15-20 minutes more.
Per serving: 194 calories, 7 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 5 grams fiber, 31 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 185 milligrams sodium
Adapted from Epicurious.com
Turkey & Bean Burritos
Prep. time: 25 minutes, Ready in: 35 minutes
8 flour tortillas (diameter of 7-8 inches)
1 pound ground turkey breast
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup no-salt-added black beans or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup salsa
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup shredded lettuce
Fresh pico de gallo (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Stack tortillas and wrap them in foil, then heat them in the oven for 10 minutes to soften.
2. While the tortillas heat, make the filling. In a large skillet, cook the turkey breast, onion and garlic over medium heat until the meat is brown and the onion is tender, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Drain off the fat. Add the beans, salsa and chili powder to the skillet, stirring them into the meat mixture. Heat thoroughly.
3. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the filling onto each tortilla; top each with 1 tablespoon of cheese and 1 tablespoon of lettuce. Roll up the tortillas.
4. Serve with pico de gallo (optional).
Serving size: 1 burrito Per serving: 250 calories, 6 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 15 grams fiber, 27 grams carbohydrates, 22 grams protein
Adapted from Diabetic Living Magazine and EatingWell.com
Berry Beet Smoothie
Makes 2 smoothies, Total time: 10 minutes
2 medium bananas, frozen
1½ cups strawberries, frozen
1 cup cooked beets, peeled and chopped
1 cup almond milk, unsweetened
½ cup raspberries or other berries of choice, frozen
1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave nectar, plus more to taste
1. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor.
2. Blend until completely smooth, with no lumps left. Adjust sweetener as needed.
3. Serve in glasses.
Per serving: 264 calories, 1 grams fat, 10 grams fiber, 64 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein
Adapted from EmilieEats.com