If you’re regularly feeling backed up and bloated, then you — like many people — probably need more fiber in your diet.
“The average American only gets 10 to 15 grams (of fiber) per day,” Grace Derocha, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells TODAY.com.
That’s pretty far short of the recommended 25 to 38 grams per day, Frances Largeman-Roth, registered dietitian and author of “Everyday Snack Tray,” tells TODAY.com. And getting adequate fiber is “one of the top issues that people struggle with and one of the most common questions I’m asked by clients,” she says.
Without enough fiber, people may feel bloated, constipated and gassy, Derocha says. They may also feel less satisfied after their meals, which can lead to overeating, Largeman-Roth adds. And fiber can help lower cholesterol, Derocha explains, meaning getting more fiber can have heart-health benefits, too.
And getting more fiber in your meals can be surprisingly easy.
What is it that makes fiber such a powerhouse? You can think of fiber as the “street sweeper of your system,” Derocha says.
Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, acts like the street sweeper “sludge” to move things along through the gut, she explains. And insoluble fiber acts as “the bristles and brushes that actually scrape the insides to get the gunk out of your system,” Derocha says.
The whole process gets rid of excess waste that would otherwise hinder your ability to absorb nutrients from your food and lead to inflammation down the line, she says.
These types of fiber have impacts on other bodily systems, too.
“Soluble fiber will swell in water, and will make the meal move more slowly through the intestines,” Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., assistant professor at Saint Louis University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells TODAY.com.
That helps control blood sugar levels because “glucose molecules will get trapped in the fiber gel and get absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream,” she explains. Cholesterol also gets trapped in this way, which is why fiber helps regulate cholesterol levels.
Insoluble fiber has the opposite — but equally important — effect and makes meals move more quickly through the colon. It also adds bulk to the stool and contributes to feelings of fullness, Linsenmeyer says, which is helpful for weight management and easing constipation.
Look for these high-fiber foods:
- Fruit, such as berries, apples, figs, pears, avocados and oranges.
- Vegetables, including artichokes, kale, carrots, beets, broccoli and potatoes (with the skin).
- Whole grains, such as oats, brown rice, quinoa, spelt, barley, buckwheat and farro.
- Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and peanuts. Nut butters count, too!
- Seeds, like chia, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseeds.
- Legumes, such as black beans, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans and navy beans.
Many high-fiber foods contain significant amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber, Derocha says. The only exceptions on this list are the seeds, which tend to contain far more insoluble fiber than soluble, explains.
You can even feel the difference in the foods you’re eating, the experts say. The skin of a potato or the outer layer of a black bean or piece of corn contains insoluble fiber while the softer, inner layer houses soluble fiber.
Some of these foods have the additional benefit of containing prebiotic fiber, meaning they’ll help encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut. “They don’t get chemically digested in the colon, but they do get fermented by those microbes,” Linsenmeyer explains, which helps them proliferate.
Foods that contain prebiotic fermentable fiber include:
- Whole wheat, rye, barley and oat.
- Cabbage, artichokes, jicama, peas, eggplants and asparagus.
Tricks to get more fiber in your daily meals
Add veggies or beans to your omelets and scrambles.
When Derocha is making a morning egg scramble, she’ll add high-fiber greens, vegetables and even beans into the mix. “Don’t knock it till you try it,” she says. Kale, broccoli or sweet potato scrambled with egg or made into a quiche can be a hearty, filling fall breakfast.
Pack lots of veggies into a stir fry.
Cooking fiber-rich vegetables makes it easier to eat more of them than in their raw forms, Linsenmeyer says. But stir-frying, roasting or adding them to a stew makes it easier to get larger servings and, therefore, more fiber in each meal.
Take advantage of that fact with easy sheet-pan recipes for roasted vegetables or a stir fry made with ingredients like corn, peas, bell peppers, carrots and broccoli.
Add legumes to salads or grain bowls.
“If you get two servings of beans or lentils daily, you’ll be well on your way to meeting your (fiber) needs for the entire day,” Linsenmeyer says.
A half-cup serving of legumes, like black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans or chickpeas, can easily contain 6 grams of fiber or more — and they’re a great addition to any salad or grain bowl you’re making.
Dried beans are also an extremely cost-effective way to get a fiber- and protein-rich food in your diet, Derocha says, adding that she buys chickpeas and black beans for her family in bulk.
Use avocado as a spread.
Try using mashed avocado in place of butter or cream cheese to add more fiber to your sandwiches, Largeman-Roth says. An avocado contains 3 grams of fiber along with healthy, filling fats to keep you satisfied.
Try chia puddings topped with fruit.
When looking for fiber-packed seeds, chia seeds are “really the all-star,” Linsenmeyer says; a 3-tablespoon serving is packed with 9 grams of fiber. The catch is that, practically, it’s tough to eat 3 tablespoons of seeds — except if they’re in a chia seed pudding, she says.
Chia pudding, made with chia seeds, is “one of my favorite desserts, but I also like to have it for breakfast,” Derocha says. There’s plenty of fiber in the seeds, and she’ll add even more with fresh or frozen berries on top.
Sneak lentils into sauces, soups and stews.
“If you’re looking for one or two foods that can really up your fiber intake by making a small change, lentils and beans are the MVPs,” Linsenmeyer says. A serving of brown lentils come with 9 grams of fiber, she says, and French green lentils contain a whopping 14 grams.
Lentils and beans make a great addition to winter soups and stews, Derocha says, and they can be meal-prepped in bulk at the beginning of the week. She’ll also add lentils to a meaty spaghetti sauce “to add heartiness.”
Keep nuts and dried fruit — especially figs — on hand for snacks.
“I snack on nuts — usually almonds, walnuts or pistachios — and add chopped nuts to baked goods,” Largeman-Roth says. Another of her favorite afternoon snacks is dried figs, a 1/4 cup serving of which contains 5 grams of fiber. “Figs are a fiber star,” she says.
Sprinkle some seeds on your morning yogurt.
Make your Greek yogurt even more nutritious by topping it with high-fiber foods, like pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds and seasonal fruit.
In the evenings, try one of Derocha’s favorite family-friendly desserts: frozen yogurt bark drizzled with chocolate or honey and sprinkled with those same high-fiber toppings, like nuts and seeds.
Should you use fiber supplements?
In an ideal world, we’d all be able to get enough fiber from food through a varied, nutritious diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains, the experts agree. But in the real world, that isn’t always easy or feasible.
“If it’s not possible, fiber supplements can help,” Largeman-Roth says. “This is especially true when traveling,” she adds, noting that she always keeps a few packets of dissolvable fiber supplements in her bag.
In general, Derocha recommends people start by getting fiber from food products supplemented with extra fiber, like nutrition bars. “We more effectively digest (fiber in this form) and use it a little bit more efficiently,” she says. “And it just tastes better.”
But dissolvable fiber powders are another good option for many people. Different brands contain fiber from different sources, like wheat dextrin or psyllium husks, and it may take some trial and error to find one that works best for you, Largeman-Roth notes. These supplements may not contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, Linsenmeyer notes.
Switching up which brand you buy may also be beneficial, Derocha says, because you’ll be getting more varied sources of fiber as you would if you were getting it from food.
And, if you do decide to go with a supplement, opt for a product that’s been third-party verified to contain what it claims to, Derocha says.
Disclaimer: Drink water!
If you’re increasing your fiber intake, you should increase your water intake too, Derocha cautions.
Imagine trying to flush a bowel movement down the toilet without any water in the bowl, she says. The same scenario plays out in your gut if you aren’t hydrated enough, which can lead to constipation, bloating and gassiness. (Yes, those are some of the same symptoms you might experience if you’re not getting enough fiber.)
Drink water with every meal and try infusing your water with fruit, cucumber or lemon to make it a little more exciting.
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