What if someone told you there was something naturally occurring in your food that could help you improve your gut health, lose weight, and live longer? There is, and it’s called fiber. Although fiber does not have a sexy name, it can help you look and feel sexier. So why aren’t we eating more?
Health professionals recommend adults consume between 25 and 35 grams of fiber a day, but most people get less than half that amount— between 14 and 15 grams a day. Another bonus: fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole-grains are loaded with vitamins and minerals, making them a healthy bet overall.
Here are five simple ways to get more fiber in your diet.
A simple way to boost your fiber intake is to increase bran in your diet. Fiber-rich bran is found in many grains, offering about 5 to 8 grams of fiber per one-quarter cup. Oat bran is high in soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels. Wheat, corn, and rice bran are high in insoluble fiber, which helps prevent constipation. Sprinkle bran into your favorite foods, including hot cereal, baked goods, or smoothies. Many popular high-fiber cereals and bars are also packed with bran.
Get sweet on peas
Peas – fresh, dried, or frozen -- are naturally bursting in fiber. One cup of cooked split peas offers 16 grams of fiber, which is more than the average American gets in an entire day. Peas are a tasty, versatile, and inexpensive vegetable that can be added to numerous hot or cold dishes. In fact, food technologists have been studying pea fiber as a functional food ingredient. Add fresh or frozen green peas and dried peas to your soups, side dishes, stews, salads, and dips.
Slice it right
One of the easiest ways to up your fiber intake is to choose whole grain breads instead of white (refined grain) breads. Whole grain breads retain more nutrients and fiber-rich elements compared to refined grains. However, whole grain breads still vary widely in the amount of fiber they contain, with the average slice containing only 2 grams of fiber. To get more fiber in your diet, read the nutrition label and chose a bread with 3-5 grams of fiber per serving. Oroweat Double Fiber bread contains 5 grams of fiber per slice and Brownberry 100% Whole Wheat Thin Rolls contain 5 grams of fiber per roll, as well.
Go nuts to pack a fiber punch. One ounce of nuts and seeds will provide a nice contribution to your day's fiber recommendation. For example, a one-ounce serving (about ½ cup) of pistachios contains 3 grams of fiber. In addition, pistachios have plenty of protein, potassium, vitamin B6, iron, antioxidants and other nutrients. Enjoy a handful of nuts for a snack, or use them to top your yogurt, oatmeal, salad, or stir-fry.
Beans are one of the most naturally rich sources of fiber, as well as protein, vitamins, and minerals. A one-cup serving of black beans contain 15 grams of fiber, and about 15 grams of protein. If you experience intestinal gas and discomfort associated with bean intake, slowly increase beans in your diet or use a digestive aid. Beans not only up your fiber intake, they offer a nutritious and inexpensive animal protein alternative in stews, side dishes, salads, soups, casseroles, and dips.
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.