You might not think much about fiber, until you find yourself faced with a, uh, irregularity.
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Indeed, dietary fiber is a magical ingredient that keeps you regular. But thwarting constipation isn’t his only job. “Fiber does a lot of interesting things in the body,” says dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDCES.
Here’s why you need it and where to get it.
Benefits of a high fiber diet
Fiber is an unsung hero. Among its claims to fame, a high-fiber diet can:
- Soften stools and prevent constipation.
- Lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Reduce the risk of diseases such as colorectal cancer.
- Keep blood sugar levels from skyrocketing.
- Feel fuller for longer, which can help you lose weight.
There are two types of fiber, both of which are good for you:
- Soluble fiber shoot in the water. It slows down digestion and lowers cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as beans, seeds, peas, barley, oat bran, and some fruits and vegetables.
- Insoluble fibers is your classic forage. It helps the stool to speed up in the intestines. You’ll find it in foods such as whole grains, wheat bran, and the peels and seeds of fruits and vegetables.
Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, Taylor says, and a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber is ideal.
What foods are high in fiber?
Fiber comes from plants, so don’t bother looking for it in your chicken dinner. But the plant kingdom has a lot to offer, and the best sources of dietary fiber might surprise you. Here is Taylor’s top 11.
1. Whole wheat pasta
Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but whole grains are a great source of fiber and are also high in healthy phytonutrients, Taylor says. Avoid white pasta (which has been stripped of all the good stuff) and go for whole wheat instead.
Nutritional information: 1 cup cooked = 7g of fiber, 180 calories, 38g of carbohydrates, 8g of protein.
“Barley is a delicious grain that is often overlooked,” says Taylor. Try tossing it in soups or tossing a bowl of cereal with your favorite meat and veg.
Nutritional information: 1 cup cooked = 6 g of fiber, 190 calories, 44 g of carbohydrates, 4 g of protein.
“Legumes are star players. They’re some of the best sources of protein and fiber, they help keep you full, and they’re incredibly nutritious, ”says Taylor. Chickpeas are a high fiber favorite on the legume list. Add them to soups or salads, munch on chickpea hummus, or roast them whole for a crisp, stable snack.
Nutritional information: ½ cup cooked = 6 g of fiber, 140 calories, 23 g of carbohydrates, 7 g of protein.
Edamame, or immature soybeans, has a mild flavor and a pleasant texture. They’re also one of the few plant sources that contain all of the amino acids your body needs, so they’re a great choice for vegans and vegetarians. You can find them in the frozen section, still in pods or already shelled. Add edamame to salads and stir-fries, suggests Taylor. (Edamame is often a big hit for kids to snack on too.)
Nutritional information: ½ cup boiled and shelled = 4 g of fiber, 100 calories, 7 g of carbohydrates, 9 g of protein.
5. Lentils and split peas
These two legumes have similar nutrient profiles and are used in a similar way. “Lentils and split peas are nutritional drivers,” says Taylor. They cook quickly and are great in soups. Try swapping lentils for some of the meat in your chili to increase the benefits of the plants, she recommends.
Lentils, ½ cup cooked = 8 g of fiber, 120 calories, 20 g of carbohydrates, 9 g of protein.
Split peas, ½ cup boiled = 8g fiber, 120 calories, 20g carbohydrates, 8g protein.
“All berries are good for you, but blackberries and raspberries contain the most fiber,” says Taylor. They are also delicious. Fresh berries can be expensive, but frozen ones are often more economical. If you don’t like the mushy texture of thawed berries, toss them into a smoothie or toss them into your oatmeal, she suggests. “You can also bake them and put them on waffles instead of syrup.”
Nutritional information: 1 cup = 8g of fiber, 70 calories, 15g of carbohydrates, 5g of sugar.
Another fruit, the pear, is a fantastic source of fiber, Taylor says. And compared to many other fruits, they are particularly high in soluble fiber.
Nutritional information: 1 medium pear = 6g of fiber, 100 calories, 28g of carbohydrates, 17g of sugar.
8. Artichoke hearts
Artichoke hearts are packed with fiber. Add them to salads or stack them on pizza. If dealing with those prickly veggies is too intimidating, try the canned type, Taylor says. (But if you eat canned, watch sodium levels so you don’t overdo it.)
Nutritional information: ½ cup cooked = 7 g of fiber, 45 calories, 9 g of carbohydrates, 2 g of protein, 1 g of sugar.
9. Brussels sprouts
If you’ve been avoiding Brussels sprouts since you were a kid, they’re worth checking out. “Brussels sprouts are awesome,” says Taylor. They are delicious roasted or sautéed. (Plus, they’re cute.)
Nutritional information: 1 cup cooked = 5 g of fiber, 60 calories, 12 g of carbohydrates, 3 g of sugars, 5 g of protein.
10. Chia seeds
A spoonful of chia seeds can do a lot of good. “They’re incredibly high in fiber, contain omega-3 fatty acids, and also pack a good protein punch,” says Taylor. “You can toss them in oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, cereal, salads and smoothies. ”
Many people like the gelatinous texture. If you’re not one of them, try mixing them into a smoothie or yogurt right before you eat it, so they don’t have as much time to absorb the water and plump up.
Nutritional information: 2 tablespoons = 10 g of fiber, 140 calories, 12 g of carbohydrates, 5 g of protein.
11. Haas lawyers
Haas avocados are a great source of healthy fats. And unlike most foods high in fiber, you can use them as a condiment, Taylor says. “You can spread avocado on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise, or put it on your toast if you’re a true millennial. Guacamole (with whole grain crackers or with raw vegetables) is another delicious way to get your daily fiber intake.
Nutritional information: ½ avocado = 5 g of fiber, 120 calories, 6 g of carbohydrates, 1 g of protein.
Eat more fiber? Read this first!
Before you jump on the fiber train, a word of warning: “Slowly add fiber to your diet,” says Taylor. If you’re not used to a lot of fiber, eating too much can cause bloating and cramping. Gradually increase foods high in fiber over a few weeks to avoid that bloated feeling.
Another important tip: “When adding fiber to your diet, make sure you drink enough water,” she says. Fiber attracts water. This is a good thing, but if you don’t drink enough it can make constipation worse. To get things done, drink at least 2 liters of fluid per day.
“If you increase your fiber intake slowly and steadily and drink lots of fluids, your body will adapt,” says Taylor. And you’ll be glad he did.