Fiber goes hand in hand with Healthy Eating and Losing Weight. You will have noticed that fibrous foods such as fruits and vegetables make up a large part of the Losing Weight and Healthy Eating food programs. Still, what is it about fiber that is so important?
Fiber, chemically, is a polysaccharide, a sugar-like substance. Fiber comes in thousands of forms. It is that part of the plant the human body cannot digest. Every vegetable and fruit has some fiber. That is why eating the whole fruit or vegetable is so much healthier than simply the juice which has just the calories, minerals and vitamins.
But what does fiber do in the body? It is important to know that there are two major types of fiber – insoluble and soluble. The insoluble fiber absorbs water, creates bulkier stools and helps to regulate the stool pattern. The bacteria in the lower bowel or colon do not break down this fiber. The increased bulk in stool is from the absorbed water. Examples of insoluble fiber are wheat, barley, rye, corn and rice. The second type of fiber is soluble. Soluble fiber, too, absorbs water and becomes gelatinous and sticky. Examples of soluble fiber are oats, oat bran, fruit pectins, gum and gum arabic. So is psyllium which is in the products Metamucil and Konsyl. Soluble fibers are metabolized and used as a food source by the beneficial and necessary colon bacteria. These bacteria, thereby, actually create the nutrition needed by the cells lining the colon. The stool bulk created by soluble fiber is mostly due to increased bacteria growth. Soluble fiber can lower the cholesterol 10-15%. The down side for soluble fiber is that harmless gas forming bacteria in the colon may cause bloating, discomfort and increased rectal gas or flatus. Methylcellulose is a synthetic fiber that is present in the product Citrucel. It is only slightly soluble in water and probably only partly digested by colon bacteria.
The health benefits of fiber are now well proven. You need 20 -30 grams of fiber every day to gain those benefits. A high fiber diet is helpful in irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, diverticulosis and perhaps hiatus hernia. Rural Africans who eat 50 grams a day of fiber from their unprocessed grains have few of these diseases. A Harvard University study on their graduates showed that men who ate more than 25 grams of fiber a day had more than 33% fewer heart attacks than those who ate below 15 grams a day. It was previously thought that fiber protected one from colon cancer and polyps. There is now mixed evidence for this benefit in the medical literature. A recent study suggests no benefit. Whenever we see negative and positive results such as this, it is likely that the benefit is minimal or weak.
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 (http://www.amisvegetarian.com/2011/08/spinach-yellow-split-peas-soup-free.html)
A staple in Indian cooking, split peas form a terrific, protein-rich base for soups, and stews. 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 Sauteed Mushrooms (http://www.womenshealthmag.com/nutrition/barbecue-recipes?page=4)
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 (http://www.aidamollenkamp.com/2013/01/pretty-easy-black-bean-and-sweet-potato-chili-recipe/)
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 (http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/leek-lima-bean-soup-with-bacon-10000001065580/)
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 (http://www.spearmintkitchen.com/2011/01/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 Puree with Prosciutto (http://unfussyfare.com/2009/scallops-and-prosciutto-on-minted-pea-puree/)
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 (http://paleomg.com/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 (http://www.reciperecommendations.com/drop-those-old-brussels-sprouts-recipe-try-these-new-43/18/)
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 (http://www.healthyfoodforliving.com/raspberry-coconut-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 (http://thehealthyapple.com/2012/06/29/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 (http://www.kalynskitchen.com/2013/04/chicken-black-bean-avocado-radish-salad.html)
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 (http://www.marthastewart.com/334875/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 (http://www.handbag.com/evening-bag/recipes/a449358/smoothie-recipe-vanilla-honey-and-yoghurt-with-bran-flakes.html)
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 (http://anamericaninireland.com/2011/05/14/dublin-dreams/)
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: Pearled Barley Risotto with Roasted Squash, Red Peppers, and Rocket (http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/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 (http://ohsheglows.com/2010/12/21/holiday-breakfast-in-a-jiffy-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
I hope this segment on fiber makes you feel more comfortable on how to implement it into your life to ensure your body is getting what it needs and helps you lose weight in the process. Remember that fiber makes you feel full!