If you're trying to diet and finding it too tough to restrict calories because you're always starving, fiber may be just what you're lacking. "It keeps you feeling fuller for longer," says Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky. "You don't get as hungry as quickly, so it helps when somebody's trying to cut back on calories."
Fiber is a carbohydrate, but unlike other carbohydrates, it doesn't get broken down by your body, says Meyerowitz.
Simple carbohydrates, continues Meyerowitz, don't offer the same filling benefits. "With fiber added in, you're more satisfied. Fiber doesn't make the blood sugar go up quite as quickly. It allows the sugar to get into your system more slowly," she explains.
Beyond being a diet aid, there are many health benefits of fiber, including:
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Improving digestion
- Reducing diabetes risk
- Improving heart health
- Reducing constipation
- Reducing the risk of diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestines)
- Maintaining steady control of blood sugar
Fiber in the Diet: Where to Find Fiber
Fiber is always found in edible plant materials and in the healthiest foods, like whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. "They act differently in your body when they're being processed," Meyerowitz explains. "Soluble fiber can be somewhat dissolved by water; insoluble fiber can't."
It's best that you get the fiber you need each day from foods in your diet rather than supplements. Most people need between 20 and 35 grams of fiber each day. Some good fiber-rich food choices are: Getting fiber is great, but don't suddenly jump on the fiber bandwagon and ramp up your intake all at once. Take it slowly, and gradually increase your fiber each day to prevent side effects like diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.
- Whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas
- Fruits and vegetables
- Brown rice
- Dried beans
Fiber in the Diet: Smart Choices
Now that you know what foods are fiber-rich and good for you, it's time to start finding ways to work them into your daily meals and snacks. Try these tips to get more fiber every day:
- Have oatmeal or whole-grain cereal for breakfast; top with some fresh fruit.
- Eat fruits and veggies raw and with skins for more fiber (if appropriate).
- Snack on fruits — dried or fresh is fine.
- Have bulgur, barley, or couscous as a side dish.
- Munch on popcorn when you need a snack.
- Switch to brown rice from white rice.
- Replace white pasta with whole-wheat pasta in your favorite dish.
- Add vegetables to pastas and other dishes.
- Get a minimum of 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of veggies every day. Choose those highest in fiber like pears, berries, apples, spinach, sweet potatoes, and peas.
- Have a bran muffin for breakfast or a snack. Fiber is filling, delicious, and one of the healthiest things you can eat. There are a lot of easy and tasty ways to make fiber a big part of every day, and you'll quickly reap the health benefits. It's a simple way to feel full, be fit, and get your body into a healthy shape.