If your idea of fiber is a dissolving powder that reminds you of breakfast with your grandparents, you may really be missing out. “Fiber is an extremely important nutrient,” says Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE, the nutrition expert and professor behind FiberistheFuture.com. “There are so many things we are always told to eat less of—but fiber is the one thing we can almost all stand to eat more of!” Its benefits are just that good.
The Benefits of Bulk
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends adult women get 28 grams of fiber per day and men, 35 grams. But the average American actually consumes less than half of that, missing out on big benefits. Fiber does more than keep food moving through your body. It also helps prevent heart disease by lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and helps prevent diabetes by keeping blood sugar levels stable. “Fiber is essential for people looking to lose weight,” Ferraro says. “High-fiber foods take longer to digest than do their lower-fiber, refined counterparts. That means fiber helps promote satiety. If you feel full throughout the day and satisfied, you will be less likely to overeat.” She adds that foods that are naturally high in fiber like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains also tend to be relatively low in calories.
Real Fiber vs Fake
In recent years, everything from sugary cereal to ice cream has started boasting more fiber on the front of its label. But is this fiber added to foods that wouldn’t normally contain it as healthy as naturally occurring roughage? “These fake fibers are derived from plants, but are fake in the sense that manufacturers put them into foods that aren't naturally high in fiber like juice and ice cream sandwiches,” Ferraro says. “They are relatively new to our food supply, so we don't have any good long-term data about their safety or efficacy.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics holds the position that because it’s not yet known if these added fibers provide the same benefits as naturally occurring fiber, it’s best to get your daily dose of roughage from the real deal.
The only way to know if you’re consuming the fake stuff is to read the label. Look for words like maltodextrin, inulin, chicory root, polydextrose, oat fiber, corn fiber, pectin, and gum. “The fake fibers are found in packaged and processed foods which we shouldn't be eating that much of anyway,” Ferraro says. “Not to mention that manufacturers often have to add a lot of fat, sugar, and/or salt to mask the taste and texture of the added fibers, that they end up being even more unhealthy than you would think.” Plus, you may get unwanted side effects. "For some people these fake fibers can cause gastrointestinal distress like bloating, gas, and diarrhea if eaten in excess," says Jessica Levinson, founder of Nutritioulicious.com.
6 Fiber-Filled Foods
- Wheat bran: Sprinkle it on yogurt or cereal for an extra 1.5 grams of fiber per tablespoon, suggests Levinson.
- Berries: “Blackberries and raspberries are among the highest fiber fruits you can eat,” Ferraro says. Dice and add them to whole-grain cereal or oatmeal for breakfast.
- Fruit: Make fruit your go-to snack. “Try to incorporate 3 servings of fruit per day,” Ferraro says. “A typical piece or serving of fruit has 5 grams of fiber, so if you eat 3 pieces of fruit per day, you just got half of your total fiber needs!” Just don't skip the skin on fruits like apples and pears or you'll be missing out on a lot of the fiber.
- Whole-grain breads: “Look for at least 3 grams of fiber for any bread or starch product you eat,” Ferraro says. “And make sure it comes from the first ingredient including the word ‘whole’ and not from added fibers like inulin or chicory root.” Use them for toast in the morning, sandwiches at lunch and make your own whole-grain breadcrumbs instead of using the refined kind sold in the supermarket, Levinson suggests.
- Legumes: “Legumes are a pretty underappreciated source of fiber,” Ferraro says. “Dried peas and beans like lentils, garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans, not only are they good sources of fiber but they also are great sources of protein without the fat you get with lots of animal types of protein.” Levinson recommends trying a bean-based soup for lunch.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Levinson recommends vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens to boost your fiber intake. Add them to your dinner or have a side salad or some chopped vegetables with lunch.