Posted on Feb 18, 2020, 2 p.m.
Dietary fiber is not often thought about, but it is an important compound that helps to keep you regular, but keeping the digestive system moving smoothly is not this unsung hero’s only job in the body, according to registered dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDCES, of Cleveland Clinic’s Section of Nutrition Therapy.
A high fiber diet can help to soften stool to prevent constipation; lower cholesterol to reduce the risk of heart disease; reduce the risk of colorectal cancer; keep blood sugar level from spiking, and help to keep you feeling full for longer which can help promote weight loss and maintenance.
Fiber can be soluble pulling in water to slow digestion as well as lower cholesterol and can be found in seeds, peas, barley, oat bran, beans, and some fruits/veggies. Roughage that helps stool through the intestines comes from insoluble fiber, and can be found in wheat bran, whole grains, and peels/seeds of fruits and veggies.
Recently carbs have been getting a bad reputation, but whole grains are a good source of fiber as well as healthy phytonutrients; just hold off on white pasta which has been stripped of anything good and opt for whole wheat instead. One cup can contain 7 grams of fiber, 180 calories, 38 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of protein.
Barley often gets overlooked, but this grain goes well in soups, in a grain bowl or with meat and vegetables. One cup of cooked barley can contain 6 gram of fiber, 190 calories, 44 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of protein.
Legumes make some of the best choices for protein and fiber as they carry excellent nutrient composition and help you to stay full. Chickpeas are on the top of that list, they go well in soups, salads, stir fry, hummus, curries, or roasted as snacks. One half cup of chickpeas can contain 6 grams of fiber, 140 calories, 23 grams of carbs, and 7 grams of protein.
Edamame has a mild flavor and is one of the very few plant sources to contain all of the essential amino acids that the body requires; meaning these are great choices for those who are vegetarian/vegan. They are available fresh or frozen, in pod or shelled to be added into salads or stir fries. One half cup boiled and shelled can contain 4 grams of fiber, 100 calories, 7 grams of carbs, and 9 grams of protein.
Lentil and split peas have similar nutrition profiles and can be used in similar ways such as in soups or to replace meat on chili with a plant based alternative. One cup of cooked lentils can contain 8 grams of fiber, 120 calories, 20 grams of carbs, and 9 grams of protein. One half cup of split peas can contain 8 grams of fiber, 120 calories, 20 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of protein.
“All berries are good for you, but blackberries and raspberries have the most fiber. They’re also delicious. Fresh berries can be expensive, but frozen are often more economical. If you don’t love the mushy texture of thawed berries, blend them into a smoothie or stir them into your oatmeal. You can also cook them down and put them on waffles in place of syrup,” says registered dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDCES. One cup of berries can contain 8 grams of fiber, 70 calories, 15 grams of carbs, and 5 grams of sugar.
Pears are a great source of fiber, and compared to other fruits pears are high in soluble fiber. One medium pear can contain about 6 grams of fiber, 100 calories, 28 grams of carbs, and 17 grams of sugar.
Artichokes hearts are available fresh and canned for those that don’t want to deal with their spikes, they go well in salads and even on pizza. One half cup of cooked artichoke hearts can contain 7 grams of fiber, 45 calories, 9 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, and 1 gram of sugar.
Brussels sprouts are those cute little balls you avoided as a kid, but this cruciferous veggie really is worth your attention.They can be roasted or sauteed and used in salads or stir fries. One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts can contain 5 grams of fiber, 60 calories, 12 grams of carbs, 3 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.
Chia seeds are “incredibly rich in fiber, contain omega-3 fatty acids and have a nice protein punch, too,” Taylor says. “You can throw them in oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, cereal, salads and smoothies.” Just 2 tablespoons can contain 10 grams of fiber, 140 calories, 12 grams of carbs, and 5 grams of protein.
Avocados are a fiber rich source of healthier fats that can be spread on bread in place of butter or mayonnaise, turned into a dip for crackers and veggies, and cut up to be served with eggs, salads, in a smoothie, or complimenting side dish for just about any meal. One half of a medium avocado can contain 5 grams of fiber, 120 calories, 6 grams of carbs, and 1 gram of protein.
If you are just starting to include or increase the amount of fiber that you eat, be sure to add it to your diet slowly because too much can cause bloating and cramping. Also make sure that you drink plenty of water as fiber pulls in water which can make constipation worse.
“If you increase your fiber slowly and steadily, and drink lots of fluid, your body will adjust,” Taylor says, and you’ll be glad it did.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.