Starting a high-fiber diet
By Shaun Dreisbach
Do you get enough fiber in your diet? The Institute of Medicine recommends that women aged 19 to 50 get 25 grams of fiber a day and that men aged 19 to 50 get 38 grams. Those numbers are based on research linking that amount with a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.
“Because the body doesn’t break down fiber, it won’t increase blood sugar levels — which can help prevent and even manage diabetes,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The F-Factor Diet. Fiber also benefits your heart: “It absorbs ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and ushers it out of the body.” And because fiber can help keep you feeling full for longer, a fiber-rich diet can also facilitate weight loss.
A word of caution: Don’t go all in, all at once, if your current diet is pretty low in fiber. You could end up with unpleasant digestive issues like stomach cramps. To get started eating more fiber with minimal side effects, add it slowly. Start by adding about 5 grams of fiber per day. And be sure to drink plenty of water, which fiber needs to help move things along.
The average American gets a measly 17 grams of fiber a day. And “most of it comes from pizza crust and pasta noodles — which are low in fiber, but because we eat so much of them, it adds up,” notes Wendy Dahl, Ph.D., R.D., an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Florida. Not exactly the healthiest choices. Meanwhile, better-for-you foods that are loaded with fiber — like beans, peas and lentils — make up only 6 percent of our diets. “We need to eat more beans,” she says.
Time to up the ante! Here’s a 1-day snapshot of how to bump up to at least 25 (for women) and 38 (for men) grams, without having to eat an entire crisper drawer of produce.
To get at least 25 grams of fiber a day:
1 cup oatmeal and 1 cup blackberries: 12 g fiber
Sandwich on 100 percent whole-wheat bread with sliced chicken breast,* lettuce, tomato and 1/4 avocado: 8 g fiber
2 dried figs: 2 g fiber
1/2 cup cooked quinoa, piece of grilled fish* and 1/2 cup cooked chard: 5 g fiber
DAILY TOTAL: 27 grams fiber
To get at least 38 grams of fiber a day:
1 cup bran flakes and 1/2 cup raspberries: 11 g fiber
1 cup black bean soup, and 1 whole-wheat tortilla, heated: 11 g fiber
1/4 cup peanuts: 3 g fiber
1 medium baked potato (with skin), piece of grilled chicken* and 2 cups roasted broccoli: 14 g fiber
DAILY TOTAL: 39 grams fiber
*Feel free to sub in your protein of choice — you’re not getting any fiber from it.
EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.
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