An important dietary component that’s often overlooked, fiber plays a key role in digestive health and can actually help with weight loss. As a young fitness competitor I often focused my attention on carbs, calories and protein, but failed to consider my fiber intake. What a huge mistake!
I assumed that my regular “back ups” and persistent stomach aches were a normal problem that everyone had to deal with, completely unaware that fiber played such an important role. A diet high in fiber can reduce constipation, normalize bowel movements, reduce cholesterol and help to control blood sugar levels. And because it’s a slow digesting carbohydrate, it can make you feel full for longer and help to reduce cravings.
How Much Fiber Do I Need?
Being much older and wiser now, I consider my fiber intake to be equally important as my carb, calorie and protein intake. According to a study by the Institute of Medicine, the recommended fiber intake for women 50 years or younger is 25 grams. 38 grams for men. Are you getting enough?
Although boosting your fiber intake is relatively easy, it may require some subtle changes to your diet that will force you to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t worry! Once you become accustomed to some new, healthier food choices, a high fiber diet will become second nature.
Here are ten simple tips to help increase your fiber intake:
1.) Choose A Quality, Whole Grain Bread
White bread has been a staple in Western diets for centuries; mostly because people prefer the lighter taste and smooth texture when compared to whole grain bread. Unfortunately, processing the flour to make white bread removes a significant portion of the naturally occurring fiber. Although whole grain bread tends to be heavier and more grainy, it can be just as tasty and it’s significantly higher in fiber. If you’re not a fan, a number of companies offer whole grain alternatives that taste more like traditional white bread. As long as the ingredient label says “whole grain” or “whole wheat,” you should be good to go.
2.) Eat Whole Fruit Instead of Drinking Juice
Sure… fruit juice is tasty and loaded with vitamins and minerals, but you’ll be missing out on virtually all of the fiber contained in the fruit. Or course, some fruits have more fiber than others. Generally, any fruit with an edible skin will have the most fiber. Good examples include apples and pears. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, oranges and bananas are other popular fruits loaded with fiber. Just be sure to eat in moderation, because some fruits can also be loaded with sugar.
3.) Incorporate More Legumes Into Your Diet
Legumes, which include chickpeas, lentils and beans, are extremely high in nutrients and an excellent source of fiber. Serve black beans, red beans or lentils as a side, or consider low calorie, reduced-sugar baked beans. If you’re the salad eating type, add garbanzo beans (chickpeas) for an extra boost of fiber. Beans may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there are plenty of unique ways to prepare them to increase their appeal.
4.) Switch from White to Brown Rice
Like bread, most people prefer white rice over brown. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid the flavor and texture differences between the two. Brown rice has a firmer texture and nuttier taste; so either you’re going to love it or hate it. If you enjoy brown rice or can deal with the subtle differences, brown rice retains significantly more fiber and is definitely a healthier choice. Or, consider wild rice as an alternative, which also contains more fiber.
5.) Choose Whole Grain Pasta
Whole grain pasta isn’t as disgusting as you might think, and it’s become much more tasty in recent years. Traditional pasta is made with refined white wheat flour, which produces the best texture, but the refinement process removes most of the fiber. Although whole grain pasta isn’t going to have the same silky, smooth texture as traditional pasta, it works nicely as a side dish with a little bit of salt, butter and parmesan cheese. Mix in some steamed veggies, or use it as a replacement for some of your more traditional pasta dishes.
6.) Snack On Nuts
Don’t ever miss an opportunity to snack on nuts! Nuts are an excellent source of fiber, protein and beneficial fats. Pecans, cashews and walnuts are definitely good choices, but almonds have more fiber, protein and nutrients than any other option. Pistachios are super tasty and loaded with fiber as well. Although nuts can be expensive, they have a long shelf life and can be purchased in bulk to save.
7.) Eat More Vegetables
People are always telling us to eat more vegetables; and for good reason. Most vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals, while being low in calories and fat. Vegetables are arguably the healthiest of all of the major food groups; and they just so happen to be good source of fiber as well. Green, leafy vegetables normally have the highest amount of fiber, examples include: asparagus, cabbage, kale, spinach and broccoli. Peas, sweet potatoes and carrots are other good sources. Although some contain more fiber than others, you really can’t go wrong by adding more vegetables to your diet.
8.) Eat Whole Grain Cereal for Breakfast
Like whole grain bread, whole grain cereals contain significantly more fiber than their refined grain counterparts. There are a huge variety of options to consider, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a whole grain cereal that you enjoy. Look for something with 5 grams of fiber or more per serving. Some cereals, such as Fiber One by General Mills, have additional fiber added and pack up to 14 grams per serving. A simple, tasty way to increase your fiber intake each day.
9.) On-The-Go? Granola Bars!
An easy, portable way to gain some extra fiber, granola bars are often packed with whole grains and other high-fiber ingredients. Be sure to check the nutrition label to see what’s inside; including the amount of fiber. Look for granola bars that are low in sugar (under 20g) that contain whole grains, nuts and/or dried fruit. Don’t waste your time with bars that have less than 4g of fiber. I’m a big fan of Kind Bars, but there are numerous options to consider. You might even try making your own!
10.) Take a Fiber Supplement
Lastly, if you’re still having trouble getting enough fiber in your diet, supplements can be a natural, safe alternative to boost your fiber intake. Eating whole foods is always a better choice, but you’ll find a wide range of healthy options if you’d like to take a fiber supplement. There are different types of fiber, and different types of fiber supplements, so be sure to do a little research before you choose a product. And be sure to start out slow; the last thing you want is to experience uncomfortable gas and bloating because you’re body isn’t ready for a huge fiber boost.