How to Add Fiber to Your Diet

The Mayo Clinic's tips on adding this essential nutrient into your daily diet
by Carolina Santos-Neves, Epicurious

Dietary fiber may not be a trendy health topic like antioxidants or omega-3s, but to ignore fiber's benefits would leave us wanting more. Literally. Fiber helps regulate blood-sugar levels and fullness, reduces the risk of heart disease, keeps our digestive tract functioning properly, and plays a key role in weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight, making it an essential nutrient. We interviewed the director of clinical dietetics/nutrition at the Mayo Clinic, Jennifer Kay Nelson, MS, RD, LD, and she gave us a breakdown of the fruitful (and veggie-ful) world of fiber.

Dietary fiber can be divided into two groups: soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is found in whole foods such as oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus, carrots, and barley. It's known for lowering blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, is contained in whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, and a large number of vegetables. This promotes the smooth passage of foods through the digestive system and increases stool bulk. Ultimately, Nelson believes that one should focus less on the type of fiber and more on just consuming dietary fiber, period.

The average American adult is eating only 15 grams of dietary fiber a day but should be ingesting almost double that amount. "Women 19 to 50 should consume at least 25 grams a day, and those 51 and older need at least 21 grams," advises Nelson. "Men ages 19 to 50 should consume 38 grams a day, and those 51 and older, about 30 grams." Rest assured that boosting your fiber intake won't consign you to a regimen of cardboard-tasting cereal and powdered drinks, nor does it require eliminating a lot of the foods you love. Follow these tips and reach for foods that are naturally high in fiber, like blackberries, lentils, and grains like barley.

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TIPS:
Go Slow and Steady
Pace yourself when adding fiber to your diet. Nelson tells clients to introduce incrementally more fiber on a weekly basis. One week, replace white bread or rice with whole grains. The following week, try half of your sandwich with a cup of lentil soup, or swap your cookie for a bowl of berries. Because everyone's digestive tract responds differently to fiber, it's best to increase slowly.

Add On
Just because a recipe doesn't call for certain ingredients doesn't mean you can't improvise and add them to your meal. Having a salad? Add some beans. Making pasta? Throw in some broccoli and peas. These add-ins all help boost your intake of dietary fiber.

Don't Trash the Peel
If the peel is edible, eat it! The skin contains fiber, and it protects other nutrients from becoming irrelevant. Every little bit counts.

Meatless Meals
Nelson is a believer in substituting legumes for meat: "Go meatless a couple times a week, because a majority of legumes are high in protein and fiber."

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Fiber for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
It's best to try to incorporate a little bit of fiber into all your meals throughout the day, instead of loading up on fiber at one meal. Not only will this increase the variety of fibrous foods in your diet, but it will also allow for your body to adjust to this nutrient's benefits. Another plus is that fibrous foods require more chewing, which gives your body more time to register that it's no longer hungry, thus reducing the chance of overeating. Fibrous foods are also considered less "energy dense" foods: They provide the opposite of empty calories, meaning they contain fewer calories in a given volume of food. And they help prevent spikes in your blood sugar, because fiber slows down your digestion and the absorption of glucose.

Meet Your New Fibrous Friends
Natural sources for fiber are your best choices, but if you don't feel like eating an apple (4.4 grams), banana (3.1 grams), or Asian pear (10 grams) as your afternoon snack, here are some store-bought alternatives that are fairly high in fiber:

* Love Nutella? Reach for a Jŏcalat Chocolate Hazelnut Lärabar instead. One bar will satisfy your sweet tooth while providing ten times more fiber than the one-tablespoon serving found in the chocolate-hazelnut spread.
* Pair your cheese with Special K Multi-Grain Crackers. These contain two more grams of fiber per serving than Mini Stoned Wheat Thins, so your digestive tract will thank you.
* The next time you serve chips with salsa, opt for Food Should Taste Good Cantina chips. One serving has 3 grams of fiber.
* One bag of Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! Kettle Korn Mini Bag has 4 grams of fiber. How much fiber does a rice cake have? Zero.
* Who doesn't love granola? Make a healthy choice with a serving of Kashi GoLean Crunch!, which clocks in at 8 grams of dietary fiber, almost one third of the recommended daily amount.

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