There is not a day that passes where I do not have a detailed conversation with my patients regarding the value of a high fiber diet. Diets high in fiber will help keep off unwanted weight, allow for regular bowel movements, control cholesterol, and help normalize blood sugar values. Because of the highly processed foods that we are lured into eating, it is difficult to find foods high in fiber. High fiber foods are unprocessed. They are found in their natural form, the way they were meant to eat. Period. Maintaining a diet high in dietary fiber does require work, as well as meal planning. Knowing what foods are high in fiber is the first step towards your dietary fiber rehabilitation journey.
People love to say “they already eat lots of dietary fiber” when I quiz them on their diet history. On detailed analysis, they are incorrect and fall short of the 35-40 grams of fiber I recommend daily. Unfortunately, bran muffins from Starbucks is a poor choice for fiber in the morning. Below I have listed the ten tips to reach your fiber goals.
- Know Foods High in Fiber: the heavy hitters of dietary fiber include cooked lentils (15.5 g per cup), black beans (15 g per cup), pinto beans (14.7 per cup), lima beans (13.16 per cup), kidney beans (11.33 g per cup), chickpeas (12.46 g per cup), navy beans (11.65 g per cup), soybeans (10.32 g per cup), and cooked barley (13.60 g per cup). Understanding these foods, and making them a part of your regular diet is an excellent first step. Keep in mind that beans can be consumed for breakfast, as well as lunch, dinner, and as a snack. Consuming a couple of servings of beans per day will make your goal that much easier at reach.
- Do Not Rely on Fiber Supplements: taking one of a dozen fiber supplements is ok, but do not get duped into the sense that this is a significant contribution to your daily totals. Metamucil powder contributes between 3 grams of fiber per serving. In pill form, 2 to 6 fiber capsules provide 1 to 3 grams of fiber. While this is fine, keep in mind there is no additional nutritional value to what you just swallowed. One orange provides the same 3 grams of fiber but with a whole heck of a lot more nutrition and antioxidants. Citrucel, another popular dietary supplement, is similar to Metamucil. These are fine products, and I recommend their use. The point is not to be fooled that this is the sole source of your fiber. Think of it as a small contribution to the big picture.
- Eat Fiber One Cereal in the Morning: the original version will provide 14 grams of fiber in each serving. This is excellent. Under their brand name, they have marketed an assortment of other Fiber One products. The problem I have is that if you follow this path, you’ll be consuming additional highly processed, sweetened foods you don’t need. Get their cereal, and get out of Dodge.
- Meal Plan: Every Sunday evening, I do my best, with my wife, to plan out the upcoming week, and the meals we plan to make. Making sure you have enough fruits and vegetables, and how you will put them all together, take about 10 minutes of planning. Salads, brown rice, and other high fiber components need to be secured from the start. Trying to figure out meals on the fly never works. The temptation to eat out or order in is far too tempting when you’re not prepared. Look at each meal and consider not only the global nutritional value but keep an eye on the fiber. Build meals around the fiber content, and if you remain true to these concepts, you will be eating well balanced and nutritious food.
- Second Tier Fiber Foods: besides the beans listed in #1, knowing the fiber content of the “rest of the food” is equally important. People are surprised at the lack of fiber they believe are in certain foods. Commit this list to memory. Most fruits are a good to excellent source of fiber. Raspberries contain 8.34 g per cup, but cranberries only have 1.99 g per cup. Strawberries come in with a respectable 3.31 g per cup. Kiwifruit each provide 2.58 grams, while blueberries, full of nutrition, contribute 3.92 grams in a cup. On the vegetable front, turnip greens have 5.04 g per cooked cup, while cauliflower contains 3.35 g per cup. Broccoli (4.68 per cup), collard greens (5.32 g per cup), swiss chard (3.68 g per cup), cabbage (3.45 g per cup), spinach (4.32 g per cup), eggplant (2.48 g per cup), winter squash (5.74 g per cup), carrots (3.66 g per cup), and yams (5.30 g per cup) round out the list.
- Eat Brown Rice: brown rice is far less processed than polished white rice. Milling of rice, that turns it white, removes 67% of vitamin B3, 80% of vitamin B1, and 90% of vitamin B6. Manganese and phosphorus are lost by half, plus 60% of the iron. All of the dietary fiber is lost as well. Brown rice is an excellent source of manganese, selenium, and magnesium. Clinical studies have been performed showing the diets high in brown rice will reduce cholesterol, as well as your risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. One cup of brown rice provides 3.5 grams of fiber per cup.
- Oatmeal: most people have an affection for oatmeal. Oatmeal should be a regular component of your diet, full of nutrients and fiber. Original Quaker Oats, as well as their Steel Cut version, will provide between 4-5 g per serving. I always recommend staying away from any instant version of the foods. Added chemicals and processing remove the natural nutritional value.
- Go Nuts: nuts are nutritious as well as a good source of fiber. One ounce of almonds (about 23 nuts) provides 3.5 grams of fiber. Pistachio and pecans provide 2.9 g per ounce. Nuts can be a fatty food but contain the good fats. Eat nuts, but don’t devour nuts by the fistful. For years, there was the feeling that nuts should be avoided if you had diverticulosis or diverticulitis. This has been overturned, and once again nuts are OK to eat if you have this condition.
- Putting it All Together: with all this knowledge, what are you supposed to do now? The answer is to make a diet plan. I have constructed a few sample plans that you can follow, substituting one food for another, now that you know their fiber content.
- Breakfast 1: Fiber Once cereal (14 g), one-half cup of blueberries (2 g), two slices of whole wheat toast (4 g): total 20 grams
- Breakfast 2: Oatmeal (4 g), a cup of strawberries (3.31 g), Metamucil (3 g), one apple (3.37 g): total 13.68 grams
- Lunch 1: one apple (3.37 g), two slices whole wheat bread (with a meat) (4 g), salad (approximately 5 g), 2 vegetables (10 g), almonds (3.5 g): total 25.87 grams
- Lunch 2: cup raspberries (8.34 g), half cup brown rice (1.75 g), half cup black beans (7.5 g), 2 vegetables (10 g): total: 27.59 grams
- Dinner: salad (5 g), 2 vegetables (10 g), half cup brown rice (1.75 g), half cup strawberries (1.6 g), cup cantaloupe (1.28 g), half cup pinto beans (7 g): total: 26.63 grams
- Are You Kidding Me?: The above examples consist of fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and rice. Nothing out of a box, bag, can, or microwave. Yes, it is a lot of fruit, but we are supposed to eat 5-6 servings per day. Yes, this is a lot of vegetables, but we are supposed to eat 5-6 servings of vegetables every day. We have been programmed to eat a piece of fruit here and a veggie there. To get the 35-40 grams of fiber we all need, you have to have a diet that mirrors what is listed above.
There are numerous resources on the web to learn about these fruits and vegetables, and how to prepare them in a flavorful fashion. Boiled carrots are the pits, and I’d push them away too. Read, educate, plan, and experiment. You can reach these goals. Let me know what you think.