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SALT LAKE CITY — We all know we should be getting plenty of fiber in our diet, but do we know the reasons why? Fiber does more than just help digestion. It’s an essential nutrient that helps our bodies in many ways.
Aside from helping food make its way through our digestive tract, fiber is also important for heart health, stabilizes blood sugar levels, supports a healthy gut microbiome, and reduces our risk for colon cancer and some chronic diseases.
Unfortunately, most Americans fall short by about half of the recommended fiber intake, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA recommends 14 grams of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories, which equates to about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men each day.
Now don’t rush off to the supplement section of your local grocery store to buy some fiber supplements. Most of the fiber we get should be in the form of food. If you’re like most Americans and wondering how you’re going to double your fiber intake, you’ll come to find it actually isn’t that hard.
However, there are a couple things to keep in mind when adding more fiber to your diet. It's best to add fiber gradually into your diet, over the course of a week or two. This way your digestive system won’t get a surprise shipment of fiber when it’s not used to it. By progressively increasing the amount of fiber you eat each day, your gut will have time to adjust and keep things moving along.
Second, be sure you are drinking enough water each day. Fiber and water work together to keep our digestive system healthy and happy. If one is out of balance you can end up constipated, with diarrhea or both.
Now that you know to increase fiber gradually, drink plenty of water and get most of it through food, here are 10 simple ways to add more fiber to your daily diet. Once you get in the habit of doing some of these, you’ll wonder why it was so hard before!
1. Start with breakfast
It’s the most important meal of the day, right? So why not make it a nutritious breakfast filled with fiber. Oatmeal is one of the simplest ways to get in some fiber. Oats themselves are full of soluble fiber, but add in some berries, chia seeds, nuts or flaxseed and you’ve just upped the ante.
Other ways to add fiber at breakfast include adding a variety of chopped veggies into an egg scramble or breakfast burrito, top some whole-wheat toast with avocado, or pour yourself a bowl of high-fiber cereal, such as wheat bran or granola.
2. Snack on it
Instead of reaching for a bag of potato chips, grab some sliced veggies and dip them into some hummus. Both the veggie sticks and hummus provide dietary fiber that will help keep you feeling full until your next meal. Other high-fiber snacks include whole-grain crackers, fresh fruit, popcorn, trail mix, and homemade energy bites.
3. Sneak it into soup
Soups are a great way to sneak some more fiber into your diet. It could be as simple as tossing in a bag of frozen vegetables, some canned beans, or diced tomatoes to give it some added color and nutrients.
You could also switch things up by using whole-wheat pasta or other whole grains such as quinoa, barley or brown rice. Another trick would be to add pureed pumpkin, sweet potatoes or butternut squash to your soup base.
4. Blend it into a smoothie
Enjoy a fiber-filled smoothie without even knowing it. It may sound strange but vegetables like leafy greens, cauliflower, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and more pair well with fruit and yogurt in a smoothie.
If you aren’t too keen on adding all the veggies to your smoothie just yet, you could blend in berries, rolled oats, flaxseed, nuts, avocado or chia seeds for a boost of fiber.
5. Choose whole grains
Whole grains have an outer layer called the bran. The bran contains fiber, as well as some B vitamins and antioxidants. Comparatively, refined grains have had the bran removed and no longer contain any fiber from the bran.
Whole grains include 100% whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, corn tortillas, popcorn, whole-wheat pasta, barley, spelt, rye and many more. If you're too nervous to dive full in with whole grains, start out by swapping out one slice of bread on your sandwich for a whole grain version or making half regular and half whole-wheat noodles next time your make spaghetti.
6. Spruce up your salad
Salads are great because you can customize the toppings to your liking. If you want to add more fiber to your salad, sprinkle on some seeds like sunflower, chia or flaxseed or chopped nuts like pecans, walnuts, almonds or cashews. You can also add some fresh fruit, like raspberries, chopped apple, or orange sections.
You can even add on some beans or lentils, cooked whole grains such as barley, farro, quinoa or brown rice, or leftover roasted vegetables from the night before.
7. Eat your fruit, don’t drink it
As a dietitian, I’ll never stop recommending adding fruit to your diet. However, there is a caveat to that. I do suggest eating your fruit, rather than drinking it. Fruit juice typically strips the fiber from the plant, leaving you with little, if any, fiber in your fruit juice.
Juice also contains a lot more sugar (albeit naturally-occurring sugar) than you would typically find in a whole fruit. This is due to the fact that it takes a lot more fruit to make 1 cup of juice compared to eating 1 cup of whole fruit. For example, it takes about 4 medium oranges to make 8 ounces of orange juice.
You normally wouldn’t sit down and eat four whole oranges in one sitting, but you could surely slurp down a glass of orange juice in one sitting. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, choose the whole fruit over fruit juice when you can.
8. Go nuts
I know I’ve mentioned adding nuts several times already, but I feel like they deserved their own spot on this list. In general, nuts are a great source of insoluble fiber. Nuts such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts and cashews all contain fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to health.
As you’ve read, you can add nuts to your day in a variety of ways. My favorite ways include mixing chopped nuts into pancake and muffin batter; topping Greek yogurt with sliced almonds; adding chopped peanuts to pasta dishes; making a homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, and popcorn; or simply toasting mixed nuts and eating a handful.
9. Swap out meat for legumes
If you’ve heard of the Meatless Monday movement, then you might already be doing this tip. An easy way to add more fiber and plant-based protein to your diet is to replace the meat in your meals with legumes, such as beans and lentils.
Do this by making a meatless chili, eating bean burgers instead of hamburgers, or making lentil sloppy joes instead of the regular version. You don’t have to make every meal meatless, but by swapping out some meat with legumes it will certainly give your diet more fiber.
If you absolutely cannot give up your meat for a meal, try going half and half. You’d be surprised that the taste and texture of your meal can still be hearty and delicious even with this one small change.
10. Keep the skin on
Your produce, that is. Fruits and vegetables with the skin on can have more fiber than those without the skin. Aside from fiber, many other nutrients can be found in the peel of your produce. For example, a medium apple with the skin on has over double the amount of fiber than an apple without the peel, as well as more of vitamins C, K, A and E, potassium and phytosterols.
From cucumbers, apples, pears, eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, plums, apricots and more, keeping the skin on is sure to add more fiber to your daily diet. You can even save the peel of your citrus fruits and grate them into your next recipe, adding a bit of extra flavor and fiber to your meal at the same time!
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