There was a time when fiber was front and center in the world of nutrition. But in recent years, it has been largely left out of the discussion, upstaged by other topics such as carbohydrates, fats and sugars.
Yet, 95 percent of Americans aren't getting enough fiber in their daily diets, according to the American Dietetic Association. Not getting enough fiber can lead to gastrointestinal (gi) problems, such as bloating and constipation.
“The low-carb, high-protein craze has many of us cutting back on pasta, bread and other grains,” says Julie Enga, dietitian with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “If you’re cutting back on whole grains, you’re likely cutting out fiber. This can be a problem, particularly if you aren’t getting fiber from foods like fruits and vegetables.” The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 25 grams of fiber per day, and men get about 38 grams of fiber per day. Yet, the average American adult gets only 15 grams of fiber a day.
So, most of us need to up the ante on fiber and nearly double our intake of the nutrient. What is the best way to do that?
“Whole grains are a great source of fiber, and it’s even better to get fiber from non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach and asparagus,” says Enga.
Don’t go all in at once, though. “Up your intake by about five grams a day,” Enga warns. “Going all in at once may cause cramps and other issues. And, drink plenty of water, because fiber needs it to move things along in your system.”
Health perks of fiber
Fiber has all kinds of health benefits. It lowers your cholesterol and prevents heart disease. It keeps your blood sugar stable and lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes. It also lowers the risk of certain cancers, and promotes healthier gut bacteria.
“There’s no controversy about fiber. It’s good for you,” says Enga. “When it gets down to it, fiber just helps you feel better overall.”
Laugh all you want: The truth is, constipation is the number one GI complaint in the United States.
What’s more, says Enga, fiber helps you fill up faster and keeps you satisfied longer. “This could help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight,” adds Enga.
In order for a food to be labeled "high in fiber" it must contain at least five grams per serving. “Don’t be fooled by food labels that make the claim they are high in fiber,” says Enga. “Look for the actual grams of fiber to know for sure. As a general guideline, a truly high-fiber food will have about five grams.”
Look out for processed foods that make high-fiber claims as well. “They make a decent snack option when you’re on the go,” says Enga. “But many of these items come packaged with a lot of unnecessary ingredients, including sugar.”
Your daily fiber fix: seven simple swaps
- White bread (0.8 grams per slice) swap for sprouted bread (3 grams per slice)
- Brown rice (3.5 grams per cup) swap for quinoa (5 grams per cup)
- Applesauce (2.7 grams per cup) swap for apple (4.4 grams per medium fruit)
- Chicken noodle soup (0 grams per serving) swap for veggie chili loaded with beans (10 grams per serving)
- White pasta (2.5 grams per cup, cooked) swap for 100 percent whole-wheat pasta (6 grams per cup, cooked)
- Granola – Nature Valley® (1 gram per ¼ cup) swap for chia seeds (5.5 grams per tablespoon)
- Orange or apple juice (.5 grams per cup) swap for smoothie (11.2 grams per serving)
Dietary fiber is a super nutrient that promotes digestive health and keeps you fuller longer. To guage how much fiber is in certain foods, keep this list handy.
- Prunes (3.3 grams per serving)
- Flaxseed (3.8 grams in 2 tablespoons)
- Oatmeal (4 grams per cup, cooked)
- Brussels sprouts (4.1 grams per cup)
- Canned pumpkin (5 grams in ½ cup)
- Broccoli (5.1 grams per cup)
- Pearled barley (6 grams per cup, cooked)
- Lima beans (6.6 grams per ½ cup, cooked)
- Pears (6 grams per medium fruit)
- Shredded Wheat (6.1 grams per cup)
- Avocados (6.7 grams per half)
- Dried figs (6.9 grams in three figs)
- Bran flakes (7 grams per cup)
- Peas (7 grams per cup, cooked)
- Black beans (7.5 grams per ½ cup, cooked)
- Blackberries (7.6 grams per cup)
- Lentils (7.8 grams per ½ cup, cooked)
- Red kidney beans (8.4 grams per ½ cup, cooked)
- Raspberries (8.4 grams per cup)
- Artichokes (10.3 grams per one, cooked)
Note: The amount of fiber in these foods can vary slightly between raw and cooked, and depending on the brand.