Fiber: Give Yourself a Fresh Start for Health

Just a few changes of habit can give a big boost to your diet's fiber profile.

From the WebMD Archives

We hear it on all fronts: We need more fiber in our daily diet. The questions for most of us: How much do I need, and exactly how do I get it?

If you think the answers involve unreachable goals and endless raw veggies, fear not. Boosting your dietary fiber is as easy as acquiring a few simple habits and as delicious as eating the meals you already love.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?

The American Dietetic Association describes fiber as complex carbohydrates your body can't digest or absorb and names two types: soluble and insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber -- found in beans, fruits, and more -- aids in satiety (helping you feel full). Insoluble fiber -- found in wheat bran, whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and other foods -- helps keep your digestive system regular.

According to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, the daily needs of men and women for fiber differ, and change as they age:

  • Age 50 and younger
    • Women: 25 grams
    • Men: 38 grams
  • Age 51 and older
    • Women: 21 grams
    • Men: 30 grams

As for how to get those grams into your diet, the experts have easy-to-implement ideas. To raise your daily fiber intake, try one of these fiber-increasing habits each week, until they're automatic. However, to avoid diarrhea and other complications, increase your fiber by a few grams each week over the course of several weeks.

6 Tips for a Fresh Start With Fiber

Get the Breakfast Boost: Wake up to a nutritious high-fiber breakfast -- one with 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. You'll meet nearly 15% to 25% of your daily fiber needs. Plus, it's a great way to manage your weight.

Become a Topper: While enjoying cereal, a whole-wheat bagel, or oatmeal, don't forget the fiber-filled toppers: bananas (3.1 grams each), blackberries (about 3.8 grams per 1/2 cup), or hummus (2 tablespoons has 1.6 grams) are all delicious additions.

Learn to Love Labels: A food label can say it's "a good source" of fiber if it contributes 10% of your daily value of fiber -- about 2.5 grams. The package can claims it's "rich in," "high in" or an "excellent source of" fiber, if the product provides 5 grams of fiber per serving. So read up.

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Enjoy Fruity Snack Attacks: When you feel the urge for a snack, be sure you have fresh or dried fruit on hand for a quick bite. A half cup of fresh raspberries is packed with 4 grams of fiber, a papaya with 5.5 grams, and five rings of dried apples has almost 3 grams of fiber.

Peels Are a Plus: Get all the fiber from the fruits and vegetables you enjoy by leaving the peels on. If you're worried about dirt and pesticides, rinse your produce in warm water before eating. Remember, whole foods have more fiber than juices, which lack the fiber-filled skin and membranes.

Go Easy On Yourself: When you shop, grab bags of ready-to-eat fresh vegetables, like baby carrots, shredded broccoli, and salad mixes. And look for packaged, presliced fruits (peels on).

20 Stealthy Ways to Slip More Fiber Into Your Diet:

  • Scoop up spreads like hummus, spinach dip, or artichoke dip with veggies or whole-grain crackers. Or dial up the fiber profile of your ranch or French onion favorite with a few teaspoons of ground flax seed.
  • Top a store-bought pizza with slices of tomato, red pepper, spinach, and onion for extra fiber. Or make your own pizza, with a whole-wheat crust, and then pile on the produce.
  • Raise a submarine sandwich's fiber profile with the crunch of red or dark green lettuce, shredded peppers and carrots, and a whole-grain roll.
  • If you're dotty for donuts with your morning coffee, try switching -- at least sometimes -- to whole-grain granola bars instead.
  • Beans are bursting with fiber. Pinto beans have 15.4 grams of fiber per cup, while black beans have 15 grams; try sprinkling all kinds of beans in soups, stews, and salads a few times a week, or enjoy bean and veggie-rich burritos.
  • Cooking can reduce a food's fiber, so enjoy lots of your veggies raw. When you do cook vegetables, try steaming them, or cooking them quickly and easily in the microwave.
  • If there are cookie monsters in your house, satisfy their sweet tooth, and boost their fiber intake, by switching to hearty oatmeal-raisin cookies.
  • Stock your pantry with quick cooking brown rice and whole grain pasta in fun shapes.
  • Experiment with produce-rich cuisines. Try Middle Eastern foods like tabbouleh (8.2 grams of fiber per cup of bulgur wheat) or hummus (over 10 grams of fiber per cup of chickpeas), or enjoy a quick Asian stir fry.
  • Substitute common staples such as pasta, white breads, white rice with those made from unprocessed grains loaded with fiber.
  • Add shredded vegetables like zucchini or carrots to spaghetti sauce.
  • Add fresh fruits to your diet. Mangoes have some big advantages over other fruits. They contain more fiber than most, which helps you curb your appetite.
  • Try fruit smoothies for fun fiber. Blend low-fat yogurt, fruit juice, and fresh or frozen fruit to make a quick breakfast or as a snack.
  • Love your steak and potatoes? Try topping both with onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes, sautéed with a touch of olive oil and herbs.
  • Switch to corn tortillas, which have 50% more fiber than flour tortillas.
  • Substitute quick or old-fashioned oats for up to one-third of the white flour called for in recipes.
  • For a rich, intense flavor, try spearing vegetables and fruits on skewers and cooking them on your grill.
  • Treat your sweet tooth and get more fiber with a fruit salad. Try bananas, blueberries, and apples, sprinkled with walnuts and shredded, unsweetened coconut.
  • Hold on to more nutrients -- and cook vegetables faster -- by using the microwave oven.
  • Warm up with legume-rich soups. Just one cup of ready-to-serve bean and ham soup has over 11 grams of fiber, while pea or lentil soups bulk up with 5 or more grams each. The American Heart Association says that diets high in complex carbohydrates and fiber can reduce your risk of a host of conditions, including obesity, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

So savor sweet summer berries, hearty whole grains, and crisp colorful veggies. It's easy -- and delicious – to enjoy fiber's bountiful benefits.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 29, 2010

Sources

SOURCES: Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. FDA web site: "Bulking Up Fiber's Healthful Reputation." Healthwise "Preparing Healthy Meals." USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18. Harvard School of Public Health web site: "Fiber: Start Roughing It!" American Dietetic Association: "Nutrition Fact Sheet." American Heart Association: "Fiber, Lipids, and Coronary Heart Disease."

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