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A recent study found that people who eat diets high in fiber have a lower risk of death and chronic diseases such as stroke or cancer compared with people with low fiber intake. Optimal fiber intake for most adults is 40-50 grams per day. A majority of adults consume less than one third this amount, so you need to work toward this goal gradually, and be sure to drink enough fluids. This keeps your digestive system healthy, and it may help you avoid problems with gas.

Fiber is best known for helping to keep food moving efficiently through your body. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. You can think of soluble fiber as tiny sponges that hold moisture. Because of this property, soluble fiber is especially helpful in lowering LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad”) cholesterol. Insoluble fiber is what grandma referred to as roughage, acting like a rotor-rooter to clean out the intestine. In addition to preventing digestive problems, this neglected nutrient might help prevent obesity, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Since most of us could benefit from eating more fiber, it is helpful to identify fiber-rich food sources. One food group especially rich in fiber is dried beans and legumes. The recipe that follows combines nutrient dense canned beans with barley (a whole grain containing gluten), fresh vegetables and aromatics. A one-cup serving of this salad contains 10 grams of fiber, which gets you well on your way to fulfilling your daily fiber requirement.

In addition to beans, you can find plenty of great taste and fiber in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, peas, nuts and seeds. Whole grains provide about three grams of fiber per serving. Most packaged products with large amounts of fiber are also high in sugar, so steer clear of those. A good guide is to choose products that provide at least one gram of fiber for every 10 grams of carbohydrate.

These are my 12 tips to increase the fiber in your diet:

  1. Sprinkle oat bran or rice bran on cereal.
  2. Add almonds to a salad.
  3. Replace salad croutons with roasted crunchy chickpeas.
  4. Include black, pinto or white beans in soup.
  5. Cook up a batch of whole grains such as barley, wild rice, farro or quinoa and freeze in individual portions. Unwrap and microwave for a side dish, or add the cooked grains to salads or soups.
  6. Select vegetables with lots of soluble fiber, such as acorn squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lima beans, okra, and eggplant.
  7. Eat whole fruit rather than drinking juice. Apples are particularly high in soluble fiber.
  8. Add vegetables to sandwiches.
  9. Double the vegetables used in casseroles or soups.
  10. Eat a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread.
  11. Replace mayonnaise with hummus or avocado on your sandwich.
  12. For a healthy snack, replace chips and crackers with popcorn and nuts.

Nancy Teeter is a SaddleBrooke resident. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, she is an expert at helping people make healthy lifestyle changes to improve health, increase energy, and reduce the risk of disease.