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Fiber

Most of us know that fiber is one of those good-for-you nutrients. But you don't have to eat gravelly, tooth-breaking cereal to get it. Some of the best and most delicious foods have loads of fiber. Find out how to get your fill of fiber without sacrificing good taste — or tooth enamel!

Why Fiber Is Your Friend

So, what exactly is fiber? Why do you need it and what food should you eat to get it?

The term fiber refers to carbohydrates that cannot be digested. Fiber is found in the plants we eat for food — fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.

Sometimes, a distinction is made between soluble fiber and insoluble fiber:

  • Soluble fiber partially dissolves in water and has been shown to lower cholesterol.
  • Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, but that's why it helps with constipation.

It's important to include both kinds of fiber as part of a healthy diet.

A diet that includes foods that are rich in fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and prevent diabetes and heart disease. When carbohydrates are combined with fiber, it slows the absorption of sugar and regulates insulin response. And food with fiber make us feel full, which discourages overeating.

Also, fiber itself has no calories, and adequate amounts of fiber help move food through the digestive system, promoting healthy bowel function and protecting against constipation.

Figuring Out Fiber

Great sources of fiber include:

  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, berries, prunes, and pears
  • vegetables like green peas, broccoli, spinach, and artichokes
  • legumes (split peas, soy, lentils, etc.)
  • almonds

Look for the fiber content of foods on the nutrition labels — it's listed as part of the information given for "total carbohydrates." A high-fiber food has 5 grams or more of fiber per serving and a good source of fiber is one that provides 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving.

Here's how some fiber-friendly foods stack up:

  • ½ cup (118 milliliters) cooked navy beans (9.5 grams of fiber)
  • ½ cup (118 milliliters) cooked lima beans (6.6 grams)
  • 1 medium baked sweet potato with peel (4.8 grams)
  • 1 whole-wheat English muffin (4.4 grams)
  • ½ cup (118 milliliters) of cooked green peas (4.4 grams)
  • 1 medium pear with skin (4 grams)
  • ½ cup (118 milliliters) raspberries (4 grams)
  • 1 medium baked potato with peel left on (3.8 grams)
  • ¼ cup (59 milliliters) oat bran cereal (3.6 grams)
  • 1 ounce (28 grams) almonds (3.3 grams)
  • 1 medium apple with skin (3.3 grams)
  • ½ cup (118 milliliters) raisins (3 grams)
  • ¼ cup (59 milliliters) baked beans (3 grams)
  • 1 medium orange (3 grams)
  • 1 medium banana (3 grams)
  • ½ cup (118 milliliters) canned sauerkraut (3 grams)

Making Fiber Part of Your Diet

Most Americans are not getting enough fiber. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, teen girls (14 to 18 years) should get 25 grams of fiber per day and teen boys (14 to 18 years) should get 31 grams of fiber per day. The best sources are fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, and whole-grain foods.

You probably eat some fiber every day without even realizing it, but here are some simple ways to make sure you're getting enough.

Breakfast:

  • Have a bowl of hot oatmeal.
  • Opt for whole-grain cereals that list ingredients such as whole wheat or oats as one of the first few items on the ingredient list.
  • Top fiber-rich cereal with apples, oranges, berries, or bananas. Add almonds to pack even more fiber punch.
  • Try bran or whole-grain waffles or pancakes topped with apples, berries, or raisins.
  • Enjoy whole-wheat bagels or English muffins instead of white toast.

Lunch and Dinner:

  • Make sandwiches with whole-grain breads (rye, oat, or wheat) instead of white.
  • Make a fiber-rich sandwich with whole-grain bread, peanut butter, and bananas.
  • Use whole-grain spaghetti and other pastas instead of white.
  • Try wild or brown rice with meals instead of white rice. Add beans (kidney, black, navy, and pinto) to rice dishes for even more fiber.
  • Spice up salads with berries and almonds, chickpeas, cooked artichokes, and beans (kidney, black, navy, or pinto).
  • Use whole-grain (corn or whole wheat) soft-taco shells or tortillas to make burritos or wraps. Fill them with eggs and cheese for breakfast; turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and light dressing for lunch; and beans, salsa, taco sauce, and cheese for dinner.
  • Add lentils or whole-grain barley to your favorite soups.
  • Create mini-pizzas by topping whole-wheat English muffins or bagels with pizza sauce, low-fat cheese, mushrooms, and chunks of grilled chicken.
  • Add a little bran to meatloaf or burgers.
  • Sweet potatoes, with the skins, are tasty side dishes.
  • Top low-fat hot dogs or veggie dogs with sauerkraut and serve them on whole-wheat hot dog buns.
  • Take fresh fruit when you pack lunch for school. Pears, apples, bananas, oranges, and berries are all high in fiber.

Snacks and Treats:

  • Bake cookies or muffins using whole-wheat flour instead of white. Add raisins, berries, bananas, or chopped or pureed apples to the mix for even more fiber.
  • Add bran to baking items such as cookies and muffins.
  • Top whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter or low-fat cheese.
  • Go easy on the butter and salt and enjoy popcorn while watching TV or movies.
  • Top ice cream, frozen yogurt, or regular yogurt with whole-grain cereal, berries, or almonds for some added nutrition and crunch.
  • Try apples topped with peanut butter.
  • Make fruit salad with pears, apples, bananas, oranges, and berries. Top with almonds for added crunch. Serve as a side dish with meals or alone as a snack.
  • Make low-fat breads, muffins, or cookies with canned pumpkin.
  • Leave the skins on fruits and veggies (but wash all produce before eating).
  • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
  • Snack on raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers, or chocolate bars.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2011