Despite its popular association with trips to the restroom, fiber is no joke. The benefits of an efficient bowel aside, a high-fiber diet can also reduce the risk of stroke, hypertension and heart disease. Unfortunately, fiber consumption is currently at an all-time low, with less than 3 percent of Americans meeting the recommended intake.
Fiber is something the body needs but never actually digests -- in fact, it remains more or less the same from plate to toilet. It comes in two varieties, soluble and insoluble, and most plant-based foods contain a mixture of the two. Soluble fiber turns to gel in the stomach and slows digestion, which helps lower cholesterol and blood glucose. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, remains unchanged all the way to the colon, making waste heavier and softer so it can shimmy through the intestines more easily. Regardless of these differences, neither type of fiber is ever absorbed into the body.
Skipping out on a daily dose of fiber often leads to constipation, which can make going to the bathroom painful and uncomfortable -- hence the term "backed up." Eating too little fiber can make it tough to control blood sugar and appetite because fiber regulates the speed of digestion and contributes to satiety (aka feeling full). There can be too much of a good thing, though. Overdoing it with fiber can move food through the intestines too quickly, which means fewer minerals get absorbed from food. It can also result in uncomfy gas, bloating and cramping, especially when fiber intake is dramatically increased overnight .
So what's the magic amount? The Institute of Medicine recommends that men under 50 eat about 38 grams of fiber each day and women consume 25 grams. Adults over 50 require less fiber (30 grams for dudes and 21 grams for ladies) due to decreased food consumption. To put that into perspective, a young man is supposed to eat the same amount of fiber found in 15 slices of whole-wheat bread every day.
But fear not! Despite common preconceptions, whole grains are hardly the best source of fiber around. Read on to learn about a few of our favorite, fiber-rich foods, plus a tasty recipe to help get 'em on the table.
The Best High-Fiber Foods
Note: The amount of fiber in these foods can vary slightly between the raw and cooked versions.
1. Split Peas
Fiber: 16.3 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe:Spinach and Yellow Split Pea Soup
A staple in Indian cooking, split peas form a terrific, protein-rich base for soups, stews and dhals. This South Asian recipe is the best kind of comfort food: healthy, satisfying and super filling.
Fiber: 15.6 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Lentil Quinoa Burgers with Sautéed Mushrooms
Lentils are kitchen all-stars -- they take less time to cook and are more versatile than many other legumes. This recipe takes advantage of their slightly meatier taste and turns them into a juicy patty that's held together with lemon juice, cilantro and walnuts.
3. Black Beans
Fiber: 15 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
Sweet potato pairs perfectly with the smokiness of chipotle peppers and adds even more fiber to this hearty bean dish. Loaded with complex carbs and protein, this cold-weather stew makes a perfect post-workout meal.
4. Lima Beans
Fiber: 13.2 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Leek and Lima Bean Soup with Bacon
Lima beans might sound unappetizing, but when cooked in bacon fat, paired with leeks, puréed into a soup, and topped with sour cream, they're pretty darn delicious.
Fiber: 10.3 grams per medium vegetable, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Roasted Artichokes for Two
Packing more fiber per serving than any other vegetable, artichokes are curiously underused in most people's kitchens (perhaps because they look a bit… prickly). Get creative and try this simple recipe with lime, garlic, and black pepper.
Fiber: 8.8 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Scallops on Minted Pea Purée with Prosciutto
Puréeing veggies is a great way to squeeze extra nutrients into any meal -- this recipe comes together lightning-fast and is filled with protein, omega-3s and, of course, fiber.
Fiber: 5.1 grams per cup, boiled.
Go-To Recipe: Paleo Broccoli Fritters
This caveman-friendly dish is pretty simple. To make these fritters, just combine onion, garlic, broccoli, eggs, and almond meal. Once they hit the table, you'll be surprised how much broccoli gets finished in one sitting.
8. Brussels Sprouts
Fiber: 4.1 grams per cup, boiled.
Go-To Recipe: Hoisin Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Try this Asian twist on the old standard -- this meal carries tones of ginger, sesame, and peanut that will keep you coming back for seconds (and maybe thirds).
Fiber: 8 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Raspberry, Coconut, and Oat Macaroons
Raspberries aren't a hard sell -- they're basically nature's candy. With the help of coconut, oatmeal, and vanilla, they make a relatively healthy dessert that pleases any palate.
Fiber: 7.6 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Blackberry Lemon Salad
Successfully mixing sweet and savory isn't for the faint of heart, but this salad makes use of blackberries, lemon, scallions and dill to great effect.
Fiber: 6.7 grams per half, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Chicken, Black Bean, Avocado and Radish Salad
Few foods deserve the title of “superfood” more than the avocado, which is jam-packed with vitamins, fiber and healthy fats. Pile it on top of this low-carb, Mexican-inspired salad to add some creamy goodness.
Fiber: 5.5 grams per medium fruit, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Herb-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Pears
This recipe is a simple and inexpensive way to experiment with an unusual flavor combination. Pork works well with sweeter flavors, and the high sugar content of pears makes them easy to caramelize.
13. Bran Flakes
Fiber: 7 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Vanilla, Honey and Yogurt Smoothie with Bran Flakes
Short on time? Whip up a nutritious smoothie and take breakfast to go. This shake is a healthy and delicious way to get plenty of fiber and a hefty amount of protein, all in one glass.
14. Whole-Wheat Pasta
Fiber: 6.3 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Avocado Pesto Pasta with Peas and Spinach
With the right sauce, whole-wheat pasta is indistinguishable from its high G.I., white-flour cousin. Mix in avocado to add a wonderful creaminess to your pasta without using dairy.
15. Pearled barley
Fiber: 6 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Pearl Barley Risotto with Roasted Squash, Red Peppers, and Rocket
It's not just for making beer -- barley is a chewy, nutritious grain that contains more fiber than oatmeal and brown rice. It can be used in soup, salad or tea, but try it out in this tasty risotto with seasonal fall vegetables.
Fiber: 4 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Carrot Cake Oatmeal
With just one tablespoon of maple syrup per serving, this breakfast is a guilt-free way to indulge in the morning. Plus, it's packed with fiber-friendly oats, carrots, and coconut.
Sneaky Tips to Add More Fiber to Any Meal
- Add flaxseed meal to oats, smoothies, yogurt and baked goods -- you can even try breading chicken or fish with it. A two-tablespoon serving contains 3.8 grams of fiber and a dose of omega-3 fatty acids to boot.
- Chia seeds have a whopping 5.5 grams of fiber per tablespoon. When they meet with water, they form a goopy gel that is great for thickening smoothies, making healthy puddings or replacing eggs in cakes and cookies.
- While spinach and carrots aren't as high in fiber as the veggies mentioned above, they can easily be sliced or grated and snuck into many dishes without much hassle: Try adding some to banana bread, shakes, eggs or even a homemade pizza base.
- Food processors are fiber's best friend. Purée some cooked vegetables and add them to sauces and stews, or swap out rice for chopped-up cauliflower.
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"Everyone always thinks of vegetables and fruits and whole grains when they think of high-fiber foods, but nuts are very impactful," says Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For example, a quarter cup of almonds has 4 grams of fiber. <br><br> But Crandall says she doesn't advocate one type of nut over another. <br><br> "Each nut yields a different nutrient profile," she explains. "Add variety rather than getting burned out on one."
"Another hidden source that many people don't [think of] is frozen peas," Ansel says, explaining that they're a great option to always have on hand. <br><br> "A cup of cooked peas has about 4 grams of fiber," she continues, "and it's a really easy way to get it."
"Chia seeds are a great source of fiber, because they have both soluble and insoluble fiber," says Ansel, who explains that just one tablespoon of chia seeds packs around 6 grams. <br><br> She recommends adding them to liquid, like iced tea and waiting half an hour for them to swell up (chia seeds absorb liquid) before enjoying. <br><br> Crandall also suggests sprinkling them in yogurt, oatmeal or rice dishes, or tossing a few in your next salad. <br><br> Another great seed option to consider? Flax seeds, Crandall says.
Ansel says that a medium onion has 2 grams of fiber, which isn't necessarily an enormous amount, but it's the <em>type</em> that matters. <br><br> "Onions have inulin, a water-soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol and promotes regularity," she explains. <br><br> Inulin is often added to fiber supplements, but Ansel says onions are a good natural source, as are foods like asparagus and leeks.
"If you are going to have grains, one of the best ones you can have is bulgur wheat, which has 8 grams per cup," says Ansel. <br><br> The key, she explains, is preparation: Cook up a batch over the weekend or after grocery shopping so it's ready to go throughout the week. You can then throw some bulgur into a salad, which will help keep you fuller, longer, or throw some into a soup.
Ansel said that people don't often think about kiwis, which have about 2 grams of fiber and are a sweet and tangy option. The great thing about this fruit, she says, is that they're both satisfying and easy: Just a few tossed into your bag for an afternoon snack can help you hit those daily fiber recommendations. <br><br> In the same vein (although perhaps a little bit more obvious) are berries -- particularly raspberries, thanks to their tiny seeds. Just one cup has 8 grams of fiber.
When it comes to sources of fiber, apples are basically hiding in plain sight. <br><br> "Anything with 3 grams of fiber is considered a good source of fiber, and an excellent source is anything with 5 grams," Crandall says. "An apple has about 4 grams of fiber." <br><br> Given that, eating just one a day can really help you meet your fiber goals. Have a few and you're well on your way.