If your doctor says you need to consume more fiber, it doesn’t have to cause a flurry of excitement. You’ve heard people talk about their unpleasant experiences swallowing fiber supplements mixed into tall glasses of water. But hey, it’s good for you, right?
Yes, fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. Most Americans know this, but only 5% of the US population consumes the recommended amount of fiber each day, according to the National Library of Medicine. Many people think they have more fiber in their diet than they actually do. But many also hold misconceptions, such as eating more fiber means a more boring and bland diet.
But there is good news. Fiber is found in many tasty foods that can be easily incorporated into your diet. Let’s explore more about the benefits of fiber and some of the best sources of fiber you can eat.
What is fiber and what are its benefits?
Dietary fiber — the kind your doctor wants you to consume — is a type of carbohydrate. Unlike many other carbohydrates, it cannot be digested, but it aids the entire digestion process. It comes in two forms: soluble fiber (dissolves in water) and insoluble fiber (doesn’t dissolve in water). Each one helps your body in different ways, but it’s important to remember that both types of fiber have a number of health benefits. Here are some of the best reasons to increase your fiber intake.
It reduces the risk of heart disease
Soluble fiber is known to boost heart health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Doctors attribute this to how fiber slows digestion, reduces hunger and interferes with bile acid production. This reduces the risk of developing diabetes – a key predictor of heart disease – and high cholesterol.
Lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a disease with a wide range of risk factors, and not everyone is equally at risk of developing it. However, studies have shown that increasing the intake of insoluble fiber can reduce the overall level of risk. In particular, eating high amounts of fiber from whole grains such as brown rice, rye, and oats has been linked to lower levels of diabetes risk.
Protects against certain types of cancer
Increasing your fiber intake may help you avoid some types of cancer. Although the effects vary depending on other factors and specific cancer subtypes, soluble fiber is associated with a reduced risk of many types of colorectal cancer. One study also showed that a high fiber intake can reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 25%.
Supports digestive health
This is perhaps the benefit that fiber is best known for. Fiber helps increase the size and weight of your stool, as well as soften it. This makes it easier to have a bowel movement, which can contribute to overall well-being and make you less likely to develop conditions such as hemorrhoids or diverticular disease.
Extends your life
When you combine all these benefits, the net result is that a high-fiber diet can improve your overall health and extend your life. One study showed that regular intake of fiber, especially from grains, reduced the risk of death from all causes by 24% to 56% in men and by 34% to 59% in women.
Foods with a high fiber content
According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the daily recommendation for fiber is 14 grams for every 1,000 calories. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day and men 38 grams per day. If you are increasing your fiber intake, make sure you do it gradually and see how you feel before adding more. Now that we know the health benefits of fiber, let’s get into the foods with the highest fiber content.
1. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are tiny, black seeds with a jelly-like texture when mixed with liquid. They’re popular among natural health enthusiasts for their nutrient-dense profile that includes calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, omega-3 fatty acids, and yes, fiber. Many people like them in smoothies, yogurt, cereal and oatmeal.
Grams of fiber: 2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain 10 grams of fiber, which translates to an incredible 34.4 grams of fiber per 100 grams of seeds.
You read that right, popcorn. But before you run to the nearest theater and dip a big bucket of butter into it, remember that how you prepare your popcorn matters. To get the most health benefits from this fiber-rich food, it’s best to pop the kernels. If you need a little flavor, try a light olive oil and salt dressing.
Grams of fiber: 3 cups of popcorn (not kernels) contains 3.5 grams of fiber, which equates to 14.4 grams of fiber per 100 grams of popcorn.
Almonds are one of the best sources of fiber if you don’t have a nut allergy. They’re extremely high in nutrients, including healthy fats, magnesium, manganese and vitamin E. They’re also packed with fiber, making for a powerful and healthy snack.
Grams of fiber: 1 ounce of almonds contains about 3.5 grams of fiber, which is about 13.3 grams for every 100 grams of nuts.
4. Dark chocolate
This may come as a surprise, but health experts have been touting the health benefits of dark chocolate for a long time. It turns out that it is not only rich in antioxidants, but also a great source of fiber. However, keep in mind that you won’t get the full benefits unless you choose chocolate that is low in added sugar and at least 70% dark.
Grams of fiber: One ounce piece of 70% to 85% cocoa has about 3.1 grams of fiber, which equates to 10.9 grams of fiber per 100 grams of chocolate.
Oats are a favorite breakfast for many and have powerful health benefits, including a range of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Above all, however, they are full of fiber and great for digestion. In particular, oats contain a fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to help control blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Steel cut oats have the highest fiber content because they are less processed than rolled or quick oats.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of raw oats contains about 16.5 grams of fiber, which translates to 10.1 grams of fiber per 100 grams of oats.
6. Split peas
Peas are packed with nutrients and rich in protein and fiber. They are best known for making a great soup, but they are also great as a crunchy snack or cooked in a casserole or gravy.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of cooked peas contains about 16 grams of fiber, or about 8.3 grams of fiber per 100 grams of peas.
Like peas, lentils belong to the legume family. This means they are similarly packed with protein and fiber, as well as many other nutrients. They work well as a meat substitute in many dishes and are also a popular addition to soups.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of cooked lentils contains about 13 to 15 grams of fiber, which is about 7.3 grams of fiber per 100 grams of lentils.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are another member of the legume family (sensing a theme here?), making them another great source of fiber and protein. They are one of the most diverse food options on this list. You can use them to make hummus, fry them and add them to a salad or add them to minestrone soup.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of cooked chickpeas has about 12 grams of fiber, which equates to about 7 grams of fiber per 100 grams of chickpeas.
Yep, we’re in the legume family again. Beans are another good choice for a high fiber diet and are popular in bean salads, chili or even pasta salads. The classic Italian soup, pasta e fagioli, also contains beans.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of cooked beans has about 12.2 grams of fiber, which translates to about 6.8 grams of fiber per 100 grams of beans.
Avocados are one of the best things you can eat for healthy fats, but they’re also surprisingly low in carbs and high in fiber. Spread them on toast or as a topping on sandwiches or make good old guacamole for a tasty dip.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of raw avocado contains about 10 grams of fiber, which gives about 6.7 grams of fiber per 100 grams of fruit.
Raspberries are one of the many fruits that provide a variety of antioxidants and other nutrients. They also stand out as one of the most fibrous fruit options you can eat, and they are delicious. Pair them with chia seeds in homemade chia seed pudding for an incredibly rich treat.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of raspberries has about 8 grams of fiber, which is about 6.5 grams of fiber per 100 grams of berries.
12. Artichoke heart
Artichokes are an easily overlooked vegetable, and that’s a shame because they’re incredibly nutrient-dense and high in fiber. They are also notable for their positive effects on cholesterol. Roast them to make an artichoke dip, cook them on pizza or eat them straight up.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of cooked artichoke hearts contains about 14 grams of fiber, which equates to about 5.4 grams of fiber per 100 grams of artichokes.
13. Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts have long had a bad reputation among children. If you’ve never seriously tried them as an adult, now might be the time. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamin K and many other minerals. And they are a great source of fiber.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of cooked Brussels sprouts contains about 4 grams of fiber, which equates to about 3.8 grams of fiber per 100 grams of cabbage.
If you’ve always leaned toward apples as your go-to apple fruit, you may want to switch that up and try pears for fiber. Like apples, they are full of flavor and rich in vitamin C and vitamin K. But pears also have a richer, syrupy sweetness than apples, especially when ripe. Chop them up and add them to a salad or eat them straight from the core. Regardless, you’re getting a healthy dose of fiber.
Grams of fiber: 1 medium pear contains about 5.5 grams of fiber, so about 3.1 grams of fiber per 100 grams of fruit.
Although it is actually a seed, quinoa is classified as a whole grain. It has grown in popularity in recent years due to its role as a gluten-free grain substitute, as well as its nutrient-dense profile. With all of its other attributes, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that quinoa is also a great source of fiber.
Grams of fiber: 1 cup of cooked quinoa contains about 5 grams of fiber, which translates to about 2.8 grams of fiber per 100 grams of quinoa.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions regarding health conditions or health goals.