Delicious Ways to Boost Fiber IntakeIt's Easier (and Tastier) Than You Think!
-- By Christine Seymour, Health & Fitness Writer
Fiber is one of the easiest nutrients to incorporate into your diet, and one of the most important. However, many Americans don’t get the much needed 25 to 30 grams recommended daily for a healthy diet. Insufficient fiber intake can increase your risk for many health problems, including constipation, high cholesterol, weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome, and even cancer of the colon.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is the fibrous part of a plant food that your body cannot digest. Therefore, when it passes through the digestive system, it acts as a broom, sweeping out all unnecessary waste leftovers from digestible food. Fiber can be found naturally in many foods, and in supplement form. Here are some easy ways to add fiber to your diet:
Replace your white bread with whole wheat bread.
Many breads are packed with fiber—after all, just ½ cup of whole wheat flour packs more than 7 grams. Look for the words "whole wheat" at the top of the ingredients list, but remember to read those nutritional labels carefully. Just because a loaf of bread claims to be "whole grain" or "wheat" doesn’t mean it includes a healthy dose of fiber in the package. Many of those eye-catching labels will reveal only 1 gram of dietary fiber, meaning that the bread is made mostly from white flour, not whole wheat.
Leave the sugary cereals on the shelves.
Whole grain cereals and bran flakes are usually jam-packed with fiber—about 5 grams in one ¾ cup serving! Fiber One cereal by General Mills is a great choice, packing 14 grams of fiber in each serving! If you’re having a hard time swallowing these healthier varieties, try adding a little sweetness with fresh fruit, vanilla soy milk, a touch of honey, or a sugar-free sweetener.
Pass the beans, please.
Beans and legumes are always a healthy choice, usually containing 6-7 grams of fiber per ½ cup serving (cooked). Plus, you can easily add them to just about any meal. Heated as a side, in soups or chili, added to salads, or in place of meat in a main dish, beans have a healthy combination of fiber, protein, and healthy fat that keeps you feeling fuller longer.
Sweeten with fruit; add volume with vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are notorious "diet" foods, but should be must-eat staples of everyone’s diet. These tasty wonders are high in volume, low in calories, and high in fiber—a great combination for any dieter who wants to fill up without breaking his calorie budget.
One cup of fresh red raspberries holds a whopping 8 grams of fiber and blackberries are close behind at about 7.5 grams. Pears, prunes, and apples all measure up at about 4 grams of fiber per serving.
Vegetables are a little lower on the totem pole for fiber, but still a great source. Acorn squash (1/2 cup baked) and artichoke hearts (1/2 cup cooked) provide about 4.5 grams of fiber, and a baked potato (with the skin) comes in at just fewer than 4 grams. Get 2 grams of fiber in a serving of broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, carrots, green beans, spinach, lettuce, or tomatoes.
Supplement, but as a last resort.
If you’ve tracked your food for awhile and are still coming up short, talk with your doctor about the need to supplement your diet. Fiber supplements come in capsules, biscuits, and even drink mixes. These will usually range from about 4-10 grams of fiber per serving, and can be found in the vitamin or supplement section of your grocery store. But fiber supplements, like vitamins, do not replace your body’s need for healthy foods.
More Fiber-Rich Tips
- Choose fresh fruit and/or vegetables over juice.
- To get more fiber and nutrients, eat the skin of cleaned fruits and vegetables.
- Include bran and whole grain breads daily.
- Drink more water to accommodate your increased fiber intake to reduce indigestion.
- Eat less processed foods and more whole foods.
- Try to meet your fiber requirements with foods rather than supplements.
- A large increase in fiber over a short period of time could result in bloating, diarrhea, gas, and all-around discomfort. It is better to add fiber to your diet gradually over a recommended period of about three weeks, to avoid abdominal problems.