Do you eat enough fiber? Most Americans don’t. Although the recommended daily fiber intake is 20 to 38 grams, WebMD reports that the average American only eats around 14 grams of fiber per day. And many eat even less than that.
There are many reasons why you should try and make sure you’re getting enough fiber. And it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune either.
Benefits of Fiber
As most of you probably know, fiber is an essential nutrient you need to avoid constipation and bloating. But there are many other benefits to eating a diet high in fiber as well.
- Control Your Weight. Foods rich in fiber help you to feel full when you eat. So, you’ll end up eating less during the day. Over time, this helps you cut calories and lose weight. WebMD also reports that people who eat a high fiber diet are less prone to weight gain as they get older.
- Lower the Risk of Cancer. According to eHealthMD, some experts believe that because fiber moves waste through the body faster, it lowers your risk for certain cancers.
- Lower the Risk of Heart Disease. Evidence is growing that eating more soluble fiber has a positive impact on cholesterol and triglycerides. Stabilizing these levels can help prevent heart disease, which is the number one killer in America.
- Lower the Risk of Colon Cancer. This benefit has been hotly contested. While a recent Harvard study claims that fiber has no effect on the risk of colon cancer, many European studies say differently. So who’s right? Only time will tell.
Types of Fiber
There are two different kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fiber turns into a gel and swells when it hits water. This is the kind of fiber that makes you feel fuller and helps control your blood sugar levels because it slows down digestion. If you want to eat less and lose weight, this is the fiber you want. Good sources of soluble fiber are oatmeal, lentils, cucumbers, blueberries, carrots, apples, oranges, pears, nuts, flax seeds, beans, and celery.
- Insoluble fiber does not absorb water. This is the kind of fiber that adds bulk to your stools and helps prevent constipation. Good sources of insoluble fiber are whole wheat, whole grains, wheat bran, beans, peas, seeds, nuts, barley, brown rice, zucchini, raisins, broccoli, cabbage, onions, couscous, tomatoes, carrots, root vegetable skins, and dark leafy vegetables.
As you might have noticed some foods, like beans, contain both kinds of fiber.
Best Fiber Sources – How to Eat Fiber Correctly
I bet you didn’t know that there’s a right way, and a wrong way, to eat fiber.
Here’s the deal: Many people think they can just take a bunch of fiber supplements, like Metamucil, and be fine. The problem is that if you ingest a lot of fiber at once, it can actually cause constipation and bloating. The reason is because fiber acts like a sponge, and bulks up your stools. If you don’t drink enough water during the day, fiber can wreak havoc on your digestive system.
So do yourself a favor and drink plenty of water as you start to increase your fiber intake.
It’s also important to increase your fiber intake slowly. Adding too much fiber at once can cause gas and other discomforts.
Easy Ways to Sneak Fiber into Your Diet
So how can you easily sneak more fiber into your diet?
- Switch from white bread to wheat bread. Wheat bread, especially bread made with whole grains, is a great source of fiber. This is an easy switch!
- Bake with whole wheat flour. I just started doing this; whole wheat flour does impact the taste and moisture content a bit, so it’s best to go half and half. That is, if a recipe calls for one cup of flour, use half a cup of white flour and half a cup of whole wheat flour.
- Switch to whole grain pasta.
- Eat Fiber One cereal. I eat Fiber One every morning, and I have for years. It’s an amazing source of fiber and it actually tastes really good. You get 14 grams of fiber for every half cup.
- Eat more fiber-rich foods. This is an obvious one, but try to fit more fiber-rich foods in your diet. Eat dark green salads, roast some parsnips, potatoes and carrots with rosemary (my favorite!), or have a hand full of nuts for a snack. Once you know which foods you should be eating, it’s easier to make a conscious effort to eat them daily.
- Eat more beans. Beans are a great source of fiber, with 6-7 grams of fiber for every half cup. I often make a burrito bowl, which is cheap, healthy, and delicious. Simply mix brown rice (another great source of fiber), black beans, a bit of sharp cheddar, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, and a few whole grain chips in a bowl. Top with guacamole or sour cream. This fiber-rich meal is delicious and super easy to make!
- Switch from white crackers (like saltines) to whole grain crackers.
- Choose cookies, like the Back to Nature line (which are amazingly delicious and can be found at health food stores or Whole Foods), which are made with whole grain flour. My favorite? The Back to Nature Madagascar Vanilla Bean cookies – simply addictive, and a great source of fiber.
- Choose fresh fruit over fruit juice. For instance, one medium-sized apple has four grams of fiber. Apple juice, on the other hand, has zero.
- Use quinoa instead of white rice. Quinoa is actually a seed, but you cook and eat it, just like rice. It has a nutty flavor, and is delicious! Three and a half ounces of quinoa contains seven grams of fiber.
- Try to fit fiber into every meal. For instance, breakfast could be a whole grain English muffin with fresh avocado as a spread (one avocado has 4.3 grams of fiber), and a piece of fruit. For lunch, have a whole grain sandwich, making sure to include dark green lettuce and a tomato. Dinner could be brown rice with toasted pecans, a protein, and roasted vegetables.
- Make split pea soup. Peas, especially split peas, are loaded in fiber. In fact, one cup of split peas contains 16 grams of fiber. Here’s my favorite split pea soup recipe, from Emeril Lagasse. Yum!
Again, once you know what you should be eating for fiber, it’s relatively easy to slip these foods into your diet. You can see a full list of foods, and how much fiber they contain, in this fiber content chart.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)