Fiber is often overlooked as being important in a healthy diet. Fiber is a type of nutrient that is not used for energy or stored as fat. However, fiber aids in digestion by providing bulk to stools, can help lower cholesterol, and slows down the absorption of sugar. High fiber diets are thought to prevent cardiovascular diseases, many types of cancers, and can be helpful in managing long-term health problems such as diabetes or hypertension. High fiber meals have fewer calories, are affordable, and can help your family feel full after a meal.
Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Most plant sources of food have a mix of both. For example, the skin of an apple is made up of insoluble fiber, while the fleshy part inside is made up of soluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance that binds to fats which helps lower blood cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of glucose which can help people with diabetes. Foods high in soluble fiber include oat bran, legumes, barley, and many fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fiber on the other hand does not dissolve in water and provides bulk to stools and aids in digestion. Wheat and corn bran, and many whole grains are high in insoluble fiber. In general, whole fruits, legumes and vegetables are good sources of both types of fiber.
Although grain products can also be good sources, they are not created equal. Many cereals, flours, breads, pastas and crackers are made from grains that have been refined so much that they are stripped of many nutrients and fiber. Without fiber, refined grains will raise blood sugar quickly which over time can cause health problems like insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity and chronic disease complications. Therefore, nutritionists recommend that half of the grains eaten should be whole. Examples of whole grains include popcorn, converted rice, corn, buckwheat, farro, bulger, barley, oats, quinoa, millet and rye. Breads, cereal and pastas made from whole grains have two or more grams of fiber per serving.
The new 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that women over 51 consume at least 22 grams of fiber per day and men over 51 consume at least 28 grams of fiber per day. Younger adults will need a little more. Eating around 5½ cups fruits and vegetables and a couple servings of whole grains per day would meet the recommendation. Good sources of fiber include:
|Food||Serving Size||Approximate Grams of Fiber*|
|Chopped vegetables||½ cup||4|
|Whole fruit with skin||1 medium||4|
|Whole grain pasta, converted rice, barley, bulger||½ cup||3|
|100% stone-ground whole-wheat or pumpernickel bread (read food label to make sure bread is 100% whole wheat!)||1 slice||2-5|
|Black, pinto, lentils, or lima/butter beans, chick peas||½ cup||8-9|
|High fiber cereal including oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, muesli||¾ cup||5-6|
|*Values based on Mayo Clinic High Fiber Food Chart|
Foods that are high in fiber are also usually lower in fat and sodium. Low-fiber foods are fine in moderation and can be healthy as well. Keep in mind that the majority of all restrictive diets fail in the long term mainly because people get tired of eating the same foods over and over. Therefore, don’t eliminate refined grains from your diet but try to make at least half of your grains whole. Set small weekly goals like eating 1 more serving of fruit most days of the week.
Fiber tips to fill you up and stretch your food dollar—think beans!
- Serve a meatless dinner once a week. Substitute beans for meat.
- Extend ground meat with beans.
- Make rice a main dish by adding beans.
- Cook pinto beans in the slow cooker, with onions, cumin, chili powder; freeze and use with Mexican dishes.
- Explore recipes on the Internet for different bean varieties such as black, pinto, garbanzo, lima, chick peas.
Tips for breakfast
- Eat oatmeal several times a week.
- For breakfast choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal—5 or more grams of fiber a serving.
- Opt for cereals with “whole grain,” “bran” or “fiber” in the name. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
- Add dried fruit to cereal.
Tips for lunch and dinner
- Try brown rice instead of white.
- Substitute half of regular flour with whole-wheat flour.
- Eat 2 vegetable servings per meal.
- Be adventurous and try soup or salad recipes that use quinoa, buckwheat or bulger.
Tips for snacks and kids
- Add oatmeal to cookies.
- Leave the skin on fruits and vegetables.
- Encourage 3 fruits a day, and only a small glass of fruit juice.
- Have kids design a fruit and vegetable kabob.
- Snack on nuts, dried fruit, and popcorn.
- Choose chips or crackers with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
Finally, drinking enough low calorie fluids and beverages, such as water or unsweetened tea, during meals can also help fiber do its job. Water helps with the digestive process, making stools soft and bulky, and like fiber is also filling.
- Mayo Clinic. “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet.” (2015). Accessed on December, 12, 2015. mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
- Mayo Clinic. “Chart of high fiber foods.” Accessed on February 23, 2016 at mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948
- United States Department of Agriculture and United States Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. (2015). Accessed on February 22, 2016 at health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
- American Diabetes Association. “The Glycemic Index and Diabetes.”(2014). Accessed on December 13, 2015. diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/glycemic-index-and-diabetes.html
- Whole Grains Council. “Add some Intact Whole Grains to Your Life.” (2012). Accessed on December 10, 2015. wholegrainscouncil.org/newsroom/blog/2012/06/add-some-intact-whole-grains-to-your-life.