Samvida Patel, IIN Content Editor, Class of February 2015
It probably comes as no surprise that fiber is an integral part of your diet, no matter your personal nutrition mantra. From reducing cholesterol and curbing blood sugar spikes to promoting weight loss and supporting healthy bowel movements, fiber boasts a wide range of health benefits.
Yet 95% of Americans fail to meet the recommended fiber intake, which poses a critical public health concern. While factors lending to inadequate consumption of dietary fiber may be numerous, integrating it doesn’t have to be a complex or time-consuming process.
Below are six simple strategies to incorporate fiber into every meal:
1) Drink your veggies.
Yes, you read that right! Although nutrition guidelines vary by country, a noteworthy meta-analysis of studies demonstrated strong correlations between fruit and vegetable intake of up to 800 grams/day and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.
That’s a whopping 10 portions of fruits and vegetables per day! Even if you love your fruits and veggies, chewing all those veggies takes time, more than likely leaving you full after a couple of servings. Instead, consider blending* them with water or a nut milk to make a breakfast smoothie – it’s quick and easy to prepare and a great way to get a healthy dose of fiber (among countless other nutrients and antioxidants!) while leaving you satiated until lunch!
*Juicing is not the same as blending: While juicing has its share of benefits, it removes the fiber that keeps you feeling full and instead causes a spike in your blood sugar rather than sustained absorption of carbohydrates into your bloodstream.
2) Layer up with legumes.
Think chickpeas, lima beans, split peas, and black beans…all of which can be easily layered into a Mason jar salad, veggie or grain bowl, or a collard green wrap for an effortless, nutrient-dense lunch. Not only are legumes rich in fiber, they also pack in protein, helping you stay fuller for longer.
If you don’t have time to eat a proper meal, whip up a healthy dip by tossing your choice of legumes, herbs, spices, and some extra-virgin olive oil into a food processor. Pair it with carrots, celery, bell peppers, or any veggie vehicle you like, and you’ll get a double dose of fiber out of a straightforward snack.
3) Go nuts!
Almonds, pecans, and walnuts contain the most fiber of all the tree nuts and make for an uncomplicated yet delicious snack.
Plus, they’re perfect while on the go. Eat them plain to hold you over until dinner or sprinkle them onto your in-flight side salad or Greek (or dairy-free) yogurt.
To switch things up, you can bring seeds into the mix: flaxseeds and chia seeds are incredible sources of fiber and are versatile ingredients that can be added to smoothies, salads, desserts, etc.
4) Add fiber to your favorite foods.
While we’re all about healthy eating and living, we also believe in balance and nourishment for the soul – we love our pizza and pasta, too. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fiber of whole grains.
Try swapping traditional pizza dough for a sprouted whole grain pizza crust, which adds not only extra fiber but also a boost of additional nutrients like folate and iron. Likewise, there is no shortage of high-fiber pasta options made from quinoa, brown rice, black beans, and lentils.
5) You don’t have to ditch the dessert.
Dates anyone? This dried fruit is chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and of course fiber and works as an excellent sugar substitute for baked goods and no-bake pie or cheesecake crusts.
If you want to up that fiber content even more, try brownies made with black beans, pinto beans, zucchini, or even celery pulp – replacing refined flour mixes with legumes and vegetables that are relatively bland on their own adds bulk without affecting the taste. Raw cacao, vanilla extract, dates, and other conventional dessert ingredients help mask the taste of any fiber-packed vegetable or legume that may be included.
While you’re at it, throw crushed nuts into the batter or on top for a decadent finish.
6) Get smart about nutrition labels.
Even if your diet primarily consists of whole foods – foods without labels – it’s inevitable to occasionally consume packaged products.
If that’s the case, here’s a little trick to help you determine the overall quality of a packaged food product: Divide “total carbohydrates” on the nutrition facts label by “dietary fiber.” If this number is less than or equal to 10, the fiber content and carbohydrate quality is generally okay.
Total Carbohydrate / Dietary Fiber ≤ 10
This metric has shown to be an effective tool in determining how healthful a food is – products with a ratio of 10 or less tend to have more fiber, less sugar, and a lower likelihood of trans fat content than those with ratios of more than 10.
Of course, this isn’t an exact science as there are plenty of heavily processed foods out there that might make the cut but don’t really benefit your health. While this is a good gauge, it’s important to look at the ingredient label as well to determine overall nutritional quality.