I just got back from the Food & Fiber Summit in Washington, D.C. – I loved it.
OK, I know, fiber isn’t an overly sexy thing to talk about. In fact, those at the conference agreed that fiber is in need of a new PR agent. Despite fiber’s somewhat dismal reputation, it’s so important.
And as two dietitians who not only love nutrition, but love food – fiber doesn’t have to have the bland and boring persona we give it. Adding in fiber to your diet doesn’t necessarily equate with chomping on bran muffins from dawn till dusk. Fiber is found in the beautiful plant world of foods. Think: farro topped with dried tart cherries and roasted hazelnuts, a winter salad featuring roasted cauliflower and pomegranate seeds, baked pears topped with an oat crumble, or fresh raspberries.
Fiber can look good.
|Roasted Vegetable Farro Salad|
And it’s good for us, too.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate in plant foods –fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. We can’t digest fiber—our bodies don’t have the enzymes to break it down—so it moves through our body intact. Depending on the type of fiber, it either acts as a gel, absorbing “bad cholesterol” and carrying it out of our body, or acting as a big scrub brush inside our intestines.
And why do we need fiber? Besides from keeping us…yes, regular, fiber has many other benefits, too.
- Fiber helps with achieving a healthy weight. It keeps you feeling fuller for longer, helping to prevent weight gain and can potentially help you to lose weight.
- Research shows a high fiber diet protects us from developing diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
- Fiber keeps our blood sugars steady, by slowing the release of sugars into the blood stream.
- Fiber helps to support a healthy environment for probiotics—those good bacteria in our gut that help keep us healthy.
- Some research has even shown that increasing fiber intake improves our mood!And how much fiber do we need? Both children and adults need 25 – 35 grams of fiber a day, depending upon age and gender. Yet, we’re averaging 16 grams/day. We have a little bit of work to do.
Here we’ve outlined some delicious, flavorful ways you can boost your intake of this nutrient:
- Stir fresh or dried fruit, flax or chia seeds, and nuts into your oatmeal or hot breakfast cereal for a fiber- and protein-packed breakfast.
- Make your own granola, using oatmeal, dried fruit and nuts.
- Make a fruit smoothie, adding fresh or frozen fruit, and either flax or chia seeds.
- Plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh or frozen fruit, nuts or seeds, and a drizzle of honey.
- When choosing breads for your morning toast, look for those that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
- Vegetables are great for breakfast! Try leftover roated potatoes, sauteed kale or roasted broccoli topped with a poached egg.
- Soups can be a great vehicle for fiber! Add beans, lentils or whole grains to your vegetable-based soup for extra fiber and protein.
- Try a salad loaded with extra vegetables, beans or whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, barley...), nuts and seeds. Drizzle with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
- Make a wrap with a whole grain tortilla filled with a bean spread, spinach, shredded carrots and avocado. Delicious!
- Add a bowl of fresh fruit to your lunch, for extra fiber and a sweet treat.
- Make your own high fiber bean dip using whatever canned beans you have on hand—chickpeas, black beans, white beans, etc. Then dip with veggies, whole grain crackers or pita chips.
- Homemade popcorn makes a great high fiber snack.
- Homemade trail mix with nuts and dried fruit.
- Cookies made with oatmeal, nuts and dried fruit.
- For homemade cookies, cupcakes or brownies, replace the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour.
- Fill at least half your plate with vegetables! Try a new variety each week, to keep it interesting.
- Oatmeal can be used in a variety of ways, other than a breakfast cereal. Try adding oats to your meatballs or meatloaf, in place of bread crumbs.
- Sneak vegetables into your favorite dishes! Add shredded carrots or zucchini to your meatloaf, meatballs or burgers. Shred carrots into your tomato sauce. Add pureed cauliflower to your macaroni and cheese. The ideas are endless!
- Use whole grains! In place of white rice, use brown rice, farro or quinoa. Choose whole grain pastas, including gluten-free varieties like corn and quinoa.