Fiber is a diet oddity. It's not technically a nutrient, because it's not digested, but this unique carbohydrate still offers big perks to your health. Harvard University researchers discovered that high-fiber diets lower your risks for heart disease, diabetes and diverticulitis. Fiber is found in plants, and many fruits and vegetables are rich sources of this natural disease fighter.
Your body needs two types of fiber. Insoluble fiber is the cleaning crew for your digestive system. It prevents constipation and adds bulk, allowing food to pass easily through your digestive tract. Insoluble fiber is found in fruits with edible peels and most vegetables. Soluble fiber regulates your cholesterol levels. Apples, oranges, peas, lentils and beans are good sources. For good health, aim for 25 grams of fiber each day. Foods labeled “high in fiber” have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, or 20 percent of your daily needs. Foods labeled “a good source of fiber” meet 10 percent of your fiber needs, or 2.5 grams per serving.
Most fruits and vegetables contain some fiber, but several varieties meet the “high in fiber” criteria. Add 1 cup of raspberries or blackberries to breakfast cereal to kick off your day with 8 grams of fiber. Toss 1 cup of lentils in vegetable soup for 15 grams of fiber or add 1 cup of peas to a casserole for 9 grams of fiber. Topping your pizza with 1 cup of broccoli or 1 1/2 cups of spinach provides an extra 5 grams of fiber to your pie.
You'll easily meet your 25 grams of fiber by adding these good sources of dietary fiber to your meals. One banana, a medium orange and 1 cup of strawberries each contains 3 grams of fiber. Chop all three fruits together for a fiber-rich fruit salad. Cut an unpeeled sweet potato in strips to make healthy french fries that contain 4 grams of fiber. One chopped onion and 3/4 cup of green beans is an easy side dish that adds 6 grams of fiber to your meal.
To reach your fiber goal, fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. The edible skins of apples, pears, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables provide excellent sources of fiber. Mash potatoes with the skin or chop unpeeled apples for a fiber-filled applesauce. If you're striving for 25 grams a day, increase your fiber intake gradually to avoid digestive problems. Add one or two fruits and vegetables a day, gradually adding more each week until you hit your goal.
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Fiber -- Best Of
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension: Food Labels -- Carbohydrates
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fiber -- Start Roughing It!
- MayoClinic.com: High-fiber Foods
- USDA: Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Spinach -- Nutrition, Selection, Storage
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Sweet Potato -- Nutrition. Selection, Storage
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Green Beans -- Nutrition, Selection, Storage
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Onion -- Nutrition, Selection, Storage
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.