More often than not, sound nutrition advice is about what to eat less of—less saturated fat, sodium and calories, for example. The exception to this rule? Dietary fiber.
Dietary fiber is a component in plant foods that is linked to a wide range of improved health outcomes, including lower cholesterol, better blood sugar regulation, improved gut health, greater satiety and lower rates of certain types of cancer. It is found naturally in the plant foods that should comprise the bulk of a healthy diet.
The typical American eats only about half of the recommended amount of fiber each day. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 30 grams of fiber per day in your diet. Here are five great fiber foods to set you on your way:
Nothing is trendier than plant-based protein and legumes, which includes dried peas and beans, are leading the way. In addition to packing some serious dietary fiber, legumes also contain protein—a combination that helps you feel full for longer periods of time, making them a great addition to your meal plan, vegetarian or otherwise.
Canned beans are an especially affordable and convenient way to get your legumes. Try subbing pinto beans for meat in your next batch of chili, add black beans to your burritos or canned beans to your salads, or whip up a batch of lentil soup. If you’re concerned about sodium, rinse them under running water first. This will eliminate about 30 percent of the sodium. The fiber in legumes ranges from 5 to 8 grams per half-cup serving.
While fruits and vegetables both contain fiber, fruit generally has more fiber per serving than do vegetables. One cup of berries, for example, contains 4 to 10 grams of fiber. Blackberries and raspberries have 8 grams fiber per cup, while elderberries top the chart with 10 grams per 1-cup serving.
There are many different types of grains that contain bran. Oat bran, for example, contains soluble fiber, which helps lower bad cholesterol levels. The bran found in corn, wheat and rice is largely insoluble fiber, which can help fight constipation. High-fiber cereals often include bran in their ingredients, or you can sprinkle it on fruit and yogurt parfaits or add into casseroles or baked goods. One ounce of wheat and oat bran yields 12 grams of fiber, whereas raw corn bran packs 22 grams of fiber per ounce.
When it comes to fiber, pears are tough to beat. Whereas many fruits contain 2 to 3 grams of fiber per serving, pears contain two to three times that much. A large pear has 7 grams of fiber, while a large Asian pear contains 10 grams. Stick with fresh pears, as canned pears usually have added sugars and less fiber (because fiber degrades over time and is generally lost during the canning process).
Fresh green peas, dried peas and even pea-based snack foods can help propel you toward your daily fiber goals. One-half cup of cooked frozen green peas contains 7 grams of fiber. Black-eyed peas pack 6 grams per half-cup, and even green-pea powder is popping up with 4 grams fiber and 4 grams protein per 1 ½-tablespoon serving.
To check out the fiber content of some of your favorite foods, visit the USDA Nutrient Database website at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search.