You probably make a lot of smart food decisions. Perhaps you pop vitamins and avoid soda. But how are you doing on fiber? If you’re like most people, you’re falling short.
To meet your daily fiber quota, you should be eating 14 grams per 1,000 calories of food. This is according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At 2,000 calories per day, the daily intake should be 28 grams of fiber.
But in nutrition studies, researchers find that people eat far less. In fact, only about 5% of people reach their recommended intake, according to a paper published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
That means that out of every 20 people, 19 need more fiber.
So where do you find this wonderful nutrient? Plants. Fiber is a carbohydrate that comes from fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, nuts and whole grains. And the benefits extend to just about every aspect of your health. (Related: Here’s what to eat if you’re taking diuretics.)
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, fiber helps keep your gut healthy and may decrease your odds of heart disease or diabetes. “More and more research is showing the important effect that fiber has on health and disease prevention,” says Ronette Lategan-Potgieter, PhD. She’s a dietitian and assistant professor of practice in health sciences at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.
One of fiber’s other benefits is that it can help you lose weight or stay slim. It doesn’t get broken down like other nutrients, so it stays in your stomach longer and may reduce overeating.
“Fiber helps us feel full sooner and it slows down our digestion, and this is a good thing,” says Ashlee Linares-Gaffer. She’s a registered dietitian nurse and an associate professor of practice at the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness at the University of Arizona.
Ready to get your diet on track? Here are the foods to eat.
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A medium-size sweet potato has about 4 grams of fiber for just around 100 calories. Plus, it has high levels of vitamins C and A, nutrients that boost your immune system. That makes sweet potatoes a great food to eat during cold and flu season.
The next time you mash potatoes, go with the sweet variety. Or try cutting them into wedges and baking them for a healthy take on french fries.
A half-cup of blueberries adds more than just flavor to your cereal and yogurt. It also adds 3 grams of fiber.
Equally impressive is the not-so-secret health boost hidden behind the hue: Blueberries are loaded with anthocyanins. These are antioxidants that may help prevent heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A half-cup of black beans has about 8 grams of fiber. They’re also versatile, which can help the next time dinner rolls around and you’re still behind on your day’s fiber quota. Try sprinkling black beans into salads, blending them into soups, or stirring them into brown rice to serve with salsa and avocado.
Almonds, pecans, walnuts and other nuts are probably best known for their healthy fats. But they also provide a healthy dose of plant-based protein. And depending on the nut variety, they have about 2 to 4 grams of fiber per 1-ounce serving.
“If you’re having cereal for breakfast, sprinkle it with some chopped nuts and you’ll be getting a great variety of fiber as well as minerals,” says Linares-Gaffer. You can also add nuts to salads or chop them up to add crunch to grain-based dishes.
Related reading: For an eating plan that focuses on fiber-rich foods, check out the DASH diet.
Thanks to movie theaters, popcorn gets a bad rap. Most people associate it with salt and liquified butter. But this snack is a fiber hero: Each plain cup (air-popped) has more than a gram of fiber for just about 30 calories. In terms of health, that blows other finger foods out of the water. (We’re looking at you, potato chips.)
To make the most of popcorn, either use the butter sparingly or swap it out for olive oil. Then experiment with herbs and spices to find a flavor profile you like.
These seeds may stir memories of your old Chia Pet. But chia seeds are also edible, and they’re a great source of fiber. “In 1 ounce of dry chia seeds, you’ll find almost 10 grams of fiber,” says Linares-Gaffer.
That’s about 2 tablespoons of the seeds, which also have omega-3 fatty acids, protein and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Wondering how to eat chia seeds? Grind them up or leave them whole, and use them to top cereal, rice or yogurt. When you soak the seeds in water, they develop a gelatinous texture. This makes a nice addition to cooked cereals or yogurt.
As with blueberries, raspberries are rich in fiber. Each half cup delivers 4 grams of fiber for just over 30 calories. Plus, they contain a chemical compound called ellagic acid, which may help prevent cancer.
Oats are particularly rich in soluble fiber, a type that dissolves in water and turns gel-like. This can help lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar in check, according to the Mayo Clinic.
That makes oatmeal an ideal breakfast base for some of the other fiber-rich foods on this list. “You could throw in some fresh fruit, nuts [or nut butter] and seeds for extra fiber, vitamins and minerals,” says Linares-Gaffer. Now you’re well on your way to hitting your day’s fiber quota.
These buttery green fruits (yes, avocado is a fruit) do a great job of filling your belly and making you feel full longer. In addition to around 10 grams of heart-healthy fats, half an avocado delivers about 5 grams of fiber.
Guacamole is the classic way to enjoy avocados, but you can also mash them on toast, cube them into salads, or blend them with fruit and ice for an extra creamy smoothie.
A half-cup serving delivers about 1½ grams of fiber. And much of it is a type called inulin, which is particularly good at controlling blood sugar, according to a paper published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. “You also will find inulin in foods such as bananas, garlic and leeks,” says Kayle Skorupski, an associate professor of practice at the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness at the University of Arizona.
If asparagus’ flavor is too intense for you, try chopping the spears into smaller pieces to stir-fry or sauté.
Whole foods are generally the best sources of fiber, says Lategan-Potgieter. That said, you might struggle to make your daily quota. (Reminder: That’s 28 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet.) So to get your fiber number up, you may want to add a supplement.
Metamucil® is an option: One serving adds a couple of grams to your day’s intake. Just be sure you wash it down with water, since fiber absorbs liquid in your gut. “With an increase in fiber intake, it is very important to also increase fluid intake,” says Lategan-Potgieter.
And while you’re thinking about your health, go ahead and download the Optum Perks discount card. It’s free, and it may save you money on prescription medication. When you go to the pharmacy, just present it at checkout.
Fiber recommendation: United States Department of Agriculture
Only about 5% of people eat enough fiber: American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (2017). “Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap”
Fiber and health overview: American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Blueberries and disease prevention: The Mayo Clinic
Ellagic acid in raspberries may help fight cancer: Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission
Soluble versus insoluble fiber: The Mayo Clinic
Inulin and blood sugar: Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition (2017). “Functional and therapeutic potential of inulin: A comprehensive review”