While protein often gets lots of attention when it comes to must-have nutrients, fiber deserves just as much of the spotlight, if not more. From keeping you full to aiding digestion to fighting disease, foods with fiber offer plenty of advantages for your health. However, despite all of fiber’s health benefits, only 1 in 20 Americans consume enough of the nutrient, according to a 2017 article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
“Americans’ lack of fiber in the diet could be due to trendy diets—think low-carb diets, keto, intermittent fasting—that eliminate some of the high-fiber food categories or severely restrict the amount of food eaten,” explains Mary Stewart, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and the founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas.
But our fiber fails could also just be a factor of the Standard American Diet (a.k.a. SAD), adds Michelle Hyman, RD, a New York-based registered dietitian. The 2020 to 2025 United States Dietary Guidelines report that 90 percent of Americans don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables, 80 percent fall shy on fruit, and a whopping 98 percent don’t get enough whole grains—all foods chock-full of fiber.
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“We simply aren’t eating enough of the foods that are naturally high in fiber including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes,” Hyman says. “Many of the ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat convenience foods and packaged snacks are made with refined grains that are low in fiber.”
Things get even more confusing when nutrition claims on product packages get stirred into the mix. The terms “made with whole grains,” for example, can be plastered on any item that has any amount of whole grains. That means the percentage of fiber in different whole grain products range between 3.5 percent to 18 percent, Stewart says—this translates to a serving of whole grains having between just 0.5 grams of fiber to almost 3 grams of fiber per serving. This is why you want to look at the nutrition label and ingredients list for any product you buy (especially grain-based products) and choose those that contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, or even better, 5 grams of fiber per serving, Stewart suggests.
Why all the hype around this nutrient? Let’s break down the benefits of fiber and which foods with fiber you should add to your diet.
What is fiber?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines fiber as one type of carbohydrate that consists of many sugar molecules sewn together in a pattern that’s not easily digested in the small intestine. Naturally occurring fiber comes packed inside plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
As far as how much fiber to eat, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest the ideal fiber intake based on daily calorie consumption. For every 1,000 calories, you should aim to consume 14 grams of fiber. For those identifying as female, the general recommendation is 25 grams of fiber per day, and for those identifying as male, it’s 38 grams of fiber per day.
It’s also important to know that there are three types of fiber:
- Insoluble fiber, which speeds up the digestive system so food and waste can move through at a more rapid clip. Think of insoluble fiber as a broom that cleans out the intestines on its way through, which in turn, bulks up your stool and keeps you regularly visiting the restroom.
- Soluble fiber, which soaks up water like a sponge, and in turn, obstructs the absorption of fat and cholesterol in the body. Because this is the case, soluble fiber helps lower the level of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and helps control blood sugar.
- Functional fiber is essentially a fiber supplement. This form of fiber is extracted from natural sources or made authentically, then added back to foods or powders.
The dietitians we spoke to recommend consuming more of the first two types of fiber over the third “because fiber is so readily available in so many delicious, diverse foods, I would recommend food as your go-to source,” explains Katherine Brooking, RD, co-founder of the nutrition news company Appetite for Health Communications in San Francisco.
What are the benefits of eating foods with fiber?
Consider fiber an all-natural prescription to boost your total-body wellbeing. It has been linked in tons of studies and scientific reviews to a lowered risk of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Fiber not only fills you up, but it also clears you out, as fiber also helps promote gut health.
What happens if you don’t get enough fiber—the reality that 95 percent of us live in daily?
You may experience:
- Irregular bowel movements
- Blood sugar fluctuations
- Lack of satiety after eating
- Increased risk of high cholesterol levels
- Increased risk of high blood pressure
- A less-than-optimal gut microbiome, which can impact the immune system, skin, mood, and more
- Increased risk for type 2 diabetes
“Simply put, fiber is a potent nutrient worth understanding and incorporating into every meal,” Stewart says.
7 Foods With Fiber to Start Eating Today
These dietitian-recommended foods with fiber will help you meet your fiber mark. Just make sure to drink plenty of water as you tweak your menu, especially if your current fiber consumption levels are low. Start by adding one serving of a fiber-rich food to one meal per day, then build from there, Stewart says.
“Increase fiber intake gradually as tolerated. Make sure that your fluid intake is adequate as you increase your fiber intake, too,” Hyman adds, as too much fiber without enough fluid can lead to constipation, loose stools, bloating, abdominal pain, or discomfort.
1. Beans and legumes
From lentils and limas to chickpeas and cannellini, nearly every bean and legume is high in both fiber and protein. Try them as a substitute for meat for an easy fiber fix, Stewart suggests. “Swap out the ground beef in tacos for black beans, use lentils instead of meat in your Bolognese, or replace the chicken on your salad with cannellini beans,” she says.
- Fiber per 1 cup of canned white beans: 13 grams
2. Nuts and seeds
“Nuts and seeds are not only a good source of fiber, but are also packed with other vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats,” Stewart says. Grab a handful of almonds, pecans, walnuts, or pistachios for a satiating snack on their own, or opt for Hyman’s seed of choice: chia. These tiny seeds are a cinch to throw into oatmeal, yogurt, applesauce, or blended into smoothies.
- Fiber per 1-ounce (2 tablespoons) chia seeds: 10 grams
- Fiber per 1-ounce (about 23) almonds: 4 grams
In addition to being potent in vitamin C, berries of all kinds nearly unanimously come out on top of the fruit category in terms of fiber content. Blackberries and raspberries, in particular, will help fill you up. Use berries to top oats, smoothie bowls, or as a stand-alone snack, or even add then to your dessert. For a postworkout high-fiber recipe use a fork to mash up berries, then spread them on your nut butter sandwich instead of jam.
- Fiber per 1 cup raspberries: 8 grams
- Fiber per 1 cup blackberries: 8 grams
- Fiber per 1 cup blueberries: 4 grams
- Fiber per 1 cup strawberries, sliced: 3 grams
As an oatmeal topping, a grab-and-go snack, or a lunch side dish, this fiber-rich fruit is surprisingly versatile. Hyman recommends dusting a halved pear with cinnamon and baking it until tender; serve topped with vanilla yogurt for dessert.
- Fiber per medium pear: 5 grams
5. Whole grains
Whether you prefer rice, pasta, or bread, you can find a whole grain option to swap in for the more refined white version. Try whole-wheat bread instead of potato bread, whole wheat pasta in place of regular pasta, brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice, and whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose. Oatmeal is also a smart choice for starting your day with whole grains and fiber, Brooking says. Try it instead of a muffin, sugary cereal, or bagel. “[Oats] contain resistant starch which ferments and feeds our gut flora, making oats an excellent food to support the health of the microbiome,” Stewart adds.
- Fiber per 1 cup of cooked oatmeal: 4 grams
While you might be more familiar with the healthy fats, avocados are a surprisingly stellar source of fiber. Use it to top toast, blend into smoothies, as part of salads or grain bowls, or as a garnish for any of your favorite Mexican meals.
- Fiber per ¼ avocado: 4 grams
These budget-friendly and portable potassium all-stars are also an often overlooked source of fiber, Hyman says. Buy bananas that are green and some that are yellow each week so they ripen at different rates. Brown too soon? Peel the fruit, chop into bite-sized pieces and freeze to use later to thicken smoothies or puree into “nice cream.”
- Fiber per medium banana: 3 grams
Nutrition information estimates from the USDA’s FoodData Central Nutrition Database.
Karla Walsh is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer and level one sommelier who balances her love of food and drink with her passion for fitness. (Or tries to, at least!) Her writing has been published in Runner’s World and Fitness Magazines, as well as on Shape.com, EatThis.com, WomensHealthMag.com, and more.