Fiber may not be as trendy to talk about as some other nutrients. But it's an important — and often overlooked — part of a healthy diet. Although we aren’t able to actually digest fiber, it has a “sponge-like” effect, helping to absorb water for smoother digestion.
Are you trying to eat more fiber? What are your favorite sources? Did any of them make the list? Which ones would you add? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments below!
Fiber may not be as trendy to talk about as some other nutrients. But it's an important â€” and often overlooked â€” part of a healthy diet. Although we aren't able to actually digest fiber, it has a "sponge-like" effect, helping to absorb water for smoother digestion. Fiber is also linked to heart health, stable blood sugar and weight loss or maintenance.
Depending on your gender and age, adults should consume about 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day. But the typical American is only meeting half of his or her daily needs! If you're looking to get more fiber in your diet, read on to find out some foods you might want to add to your grocery list.
Want a lot of fiber in a tasty, healthy, calorie-controlled package? Reach for a pear. They rank as a top high-fiber fruit with about six grams of fiber in one medium-sized pear. That meets nearly a quarter of your daily fiber needs. Pears contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Both types aid digestion, while soluble fiber also helps reduce cholesterol. Keep the peel on, though, since that's where most of the fiber is. Pears are perfect as a healthy on-the-go snack, or you can add them to your favorite salad for some added crunch and natural sweetness. For a nutritious, delicious dessert, try a simple poached pear by simmering halved pears in water, brown sugar, and red wine.
If you've never had bulgur, it should be on your must-try list. Just 1/4 cup has seven grams of fiber and five grams of protein. A staple food of the Middle East and Mediterranean, bulgur is a whole grain made from different varieties of wheat that have been parboiled, dried and cracked. It comes in four different textures: fine, medium, coarse and very coarse, and each type lends itself to a particular kind of dish. Commonly used to make Tabbouleh, bulgur's nutty flavor makes it a great base for salads and pilafs. You can also add it to breads and muffins or try it cooked as a hot cereal.
Read more: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds
Mangoes are not only sweet and juicy, they're also a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of mango is a good source of fiber, providing 12 percent of your daily needs. What's more, mangoes are a true "superfruit" â€” bursting with antioxidants and more than 20 different vitamins and minerals â€” with 100 calories a serving! Wondering how to pick out a perfect mango? Squeeze gently to judge ripeness. If the mango has a slight give, it's ripe and ready to eat. If it's too firm, let it ripen on the counter for a few days at room temperature. And don't judge a mango by its color. The red blush you'll see on some varieties is not an indication of ripeness or quality.
Many popular varieties of seeds are an excellent source of fiber. For example, 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds contains almost four grams of fiber while trendy flax seeds have 11 grams. Seeds are great snacks and you can add them to baked goods for extra flavor and crunch. Some seeds like flaxseed also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have heart health benefits. However, when you eat flaxseed whole, it'll pass through the intestinal tract mostly undigested, which means your body will get the fiber benefits, but not the omega-3s. So grind them first using a mini-blender or electric coffee grinder. And then try mixing seeds into foods like yogurt, smoothies, or pancake batter and even brownies.
Looking for good nutrition in a nutshell? Crack open some pistachios. A one-ounce serving (about 49 kernels) has six grams of protein and three grams of fiber â€” about twice the fiber in a serving of oatmeal. Plus, they offer more than 30 different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Worried about the fat and calories? With 160 calories and 13 grams of fat per ounce, pistachios are one of the lowest calorie, lowest fat nuts. (And 90 percent of the fat in pistachios is unsaturated, i.e. "the good fat.") Pistachios make a satisfying snack as well as a healthful ingredient in many meals. Add pistachios to trail mixes and rice dishes, like this fantastic mixed grain pilaf.
Read more: 9 Healthy Nuts That May Help You Live Longer
Barley, a grain with a nutty flavor and pasta-like texture, is the highest in fiber of all the whole grains. One cup of cooked, pearled barley has six grams of fiber. Barley contains high levels of a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. Research shows that beta-glucans reduce cholesterol, help control blood sugar and improve immune system function. Barley is also a good source of iron, niacin and vitamin B-6. And this whole grain isn't just for soup. It can be made into a great side dish, like a barley pilaf. It's also a great addition to breads and you can even use barley flour to bake your favorite cookies.
One large apple has about five grams of fiber per serving â€” helping keep your digestive system and your appetite in check. Apples contain a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, which have cardiovascular and anti-cancer benefits. Research indicates that apple pectin (a soluble fiber found in apples) may have a protective effect against colon cancer. Apples are a perfect, portable snack â€” you can eat them anytime, anywhere. Even if you have an apple a day, you probably won't get bored because there are over 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide! Add apple slices to a fresh salad or sandwich, or start your day with homemade whole-wheat apple pancakes.
Do not fear the artichoke! It may have an unusual shape and texture, but artichokes are easy to prepare and wonderfully tasty and nutritious. They'll go a very long way to meeting your fiber needs, too. A medium-sized artichoke contains seven grams of fiber and only 60 calories. You might not have have guessed, but an artichoke also has four grams of protein. To prepare, steam them and pull off the outermost petals. Dip the base of the petal into your favorite sauce (try lemon, salt, pepper and a little bit of olive oil). Once all the petals have been removed, you've arrived at the heart. Carefully remove the fuzz â€” not edible â€” cut, dip and enjoy. They make an excellent appetizer or side dish.
Strawberries are a delicious, high-fiber fruit with many health benefits. Just one cup contains three grams of fiber. A serving of strawberries (about eight berries) also supplies more vitamin C than an orange â€” meeting 160 percent of your daily needs! Strawberries also contain other essential nutrients like folate, potassium, magnesium and vitamin K. Additionally, they're a great source of disease-fighting antioxidants. Strawberries will add sweetness and texture to just about any salad and work well in smoothies. Looking for a special but simple dessert? Try dipping strawberries in dark chocolate for a sweet treat.
Affordable, nutritious, convenient and tasty, beans are the unsung hero of the food world. Plus, they're an excellent source of fiber: 1/2 cup of cooked black, kidney or pinto beans contain around seven grams fiber. Beans also contain protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants and important nutrients including folate, manganese, potassium, iron, phosphorous, copper and magnesium. The lean protein in beans helps you maintain and promote muscle growth while beans' complex carbohydrates provide a sustained energy source. Beans can serve as a main meal or a side dish, or they can be added to other foods, such as soups and salads, to increase nutritional value and to add flavor and texture.
Read more: 14 Foods to Help You Get Lean
Prunes, or if you wish to call them by their somewhat sexier name "dried plums," are another excellent source of fiber and nutrition. A single serving (about five dried plums) contains three grams of fiber, 293 milligrams of potassium, and 16 milligrams of magnesium â€” for under 100 calories! Dried plums are famous for their digestive health benefits: If you need help "going," they might be your best friend. About half of the fiber in dried plums is insoluble, which helps speed food through the digestive tract. Research has also shown that dried plums may lead to better bone and heart health. They are great on their own as an anytime snack, or you can add them to cereal or yogurt.
Popcorn is an excellent low-calorie, high-fiber snack that'll keep your hunger at bay. Three cups of air-popped popcorn contains about 3.6 grams of fiber and less than 100 calories. Popcorn is really just popped corn kernels, so it's a whole grain. Many people don't realize that popcorn can be a healthy snack because too often it's doused in butter and salt. Can't live without butter-free popcorn? Try topping it with a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese instead. Have leftover popcorn? Don't toss it out! You can store it in an airtight container in a cool dry cupboard for several days after popping.
Read more: 12 Ways to Make Popcorn More Exciting
Almonds are a versatile, power-packed nut and a good source of fiber. One ounce of almonds (about 23 whole almonds) contains three grams of fiber and six grams of protein. They're also low in saturated fat and high in powerful antioxidants, particularly vitamin E. Studies show that just 1.5 ounces of nuts, like almonds, per day may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Almonds are a great, portable snack but they're also perfect on salads and cereals. Want to keep your almonds fresh for longer? Keep them cool. When kept in the refrigerator, whole almonds can last up to two years with virtually no decline in quality.
Avocados are another nutritional all-star. While not typically associated with fiber, one medium-sized avocado has about 10 grams of fiber. Avocados contain nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that can enhance the overall quality of your diet.
Wondering how to choose a ripe avocado? The best way to find out is by touch â€” if the avocado yields to firm gentle pressure you know it's ripe and ready-to-eat. The firmer ones need to wait a few days at room temperature. Avocados are perfect for sandwiches, salads and spreads. And of course, they're one of the main ingredients in guacamole!
Read more: 8 Cool Things You Can Do With Avocados
There are a lot of misperceptions about potatoes, but the truth is that potatoes are good for you. One medium-size, potato (with skin) has 110 calories and two grams of fiber. Potatoes don't contain any fat, sodium or cholesterol, plus they provide 45 percent of your daily value of vitamin C. Plus, a medium potato has more potassium than a banana! If you're making a baked potato, keep it healthy by choosing your toppings carefully. Avoid using high-calorie ingredients like butter, cheese and bacon bits. And don't forget that potatoes are perfect for summer as they are great on the grill. The trick with potatoes is to keep an eye on portions â€” and of course, avoid the chips.
One cup of raspberries packs in a whopping eight grams of fiber for just 50 calories! They're also high in vitamin C and a good source of folate. Raspberries contain several important phytonutrients including anthocyanin, a natural compound that gives them their red color. Research indicates that this powerful antioxidant scavenges free radicals, helping to prevent aging of cells. Anthocyanins may also be beneficial for controlling diabetes and helping prevent obesity. Raspberries are sweet and delicious. They're perfect on their own or in salads, entrees and baked goods. Try them in smoothies, too.
Bananas are one of nature's many perfect foods. A medium banana has about 110 calories and provides 30 grams carbohydrates and three grams fiber. They also contain resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate you can't digest but that helps you feel fuller longer. This can help you from overeating and blowing your calorie budget for the day. Bananas are also great for your heart: One banana contains about 10 percent of your daily potassium needs. Research shows that potassium-rich diets can help reduce blood pressure and the risk of stroke. Bananas are an ideal snack for anytime of the day. To top it all off, they come in their own package, so they are an excellent "grab-n-go" option.
Read more: 16 Surprising Facts About Bananas
While its name might sound exotic, edamame is just immature soybeans boiled in the pod. Edamame is a great source of fiber and protein, with eight grams of fiber and nine grams of protein in one cup. Edamame is packed with other healthy nutrients like vitamin C, iron, magnesium and vitamin B-6. You can find edamame in the fresh produce section or freezer aisle at your local grocery store. You can steam them in minutes, and they make an excellent, filling snack. Edamame can also be added to salads, dip, spreads and stews. Look for one labeled organic, as organic products in the U.S. and Canada by law cannot be GMO.
19. High-Fiber Cereal
Not all cereals are nutritionally equal. Fiber, vitamin and mineral content can vary greatly. Get a jump start on your day â€” and your daily fiber needs â€” by choosing a high-fiber variety with a minimum of five grams of fiber per serving. Good options include Grape-Nuts Original (seven grams fiber per 1/2 cup serving), Uncle Sam Original Whole Wheat & Flaxseed Cereal (10 grams fiber per 3/4 cup serving) and Kashi Go Lean Original Cereal (five grams fiber per 1/2 cup serving). High-fiber cereals are great for breakfast, but they also make a great mid-afternoon power snack. Always remember to try to choose cereals that are made with whole-grains and avoid the sugary ones.