Despite its popular association with trips to the restroom, fiber is no joke. The benefits of an efficient bowel aside, a high-fiber diet can also reduce the risk of stroke, hypertension, and heart disease. Unfortunately, fiber consumption is currently at an all-time low, with less than three percent of Americans meeting the recommended intake.
Fiber is something the body needs but never actually digests — in fact, it remains more or less the same from plate to toilet. It comes in two varieties, soluble and insoluble, and most plant-based foods contain a mixture of the two. Soluble fiber turns to gel in the stomach and slows digestion, which helps lower cholesterol and blood glucose. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, remains unchanged all the way to the colon, making waste heavier and softer so it can shimmy through the intestines more easily. Regardless of these differences, neither type of fiber is ever absorbed into the body.
Skipping out on a daily dose of fiber often leads to constipation, which can make going to the bathroom painful and uncomfortable — hence the term “backed up.” Eating too little fiber can make it tough to control blood sugar and appetite because fiber regulates the speed of digestion and contributes to satiety (aka feeling full). There can be too much of a good thing, though. Overdoing it with fiber can move food through the intestines too quickly, which means fewer minerals get absorbed from food. It can also result in uncomfy gas, bloating, and cramping, especially when fiber intake is dramatically increased overnight .
So what’s the magic amount? The Institute of Medicine recommends that men under 50 eat about 38 grams of fiber each day and women consume 25 grams.Adults over 50 require less fiber (30 grams for dudes and 21 grams for ladies) due to decreased food consumption. To put that into perspective, a young man is supposed to eat the same amount of fiber found in 15 slices of whole-wheat bread every day.
But fear not! Despite common preconceptions, whole grains are hardly the best source of fiber around. Read on to learn about a few of our favorite, fiber-rich foods, plus a tasty recipe to help get ‘em on the table.
The Best High-Fiber Foods
Note: The amount of fiber in these foods can vary slightly between the raw and cooked versions.
1. Split Peas
Fiber: 16.3 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Spinach and Yellow Split Pea Soup
A staple in Indian cooking, split peas form a terrific, protein-rich base for soups, stews, and dhals. This South Asian recipe is the best kind of comfort food: healthy, satisfying, and super filling.
Fiber: 15.6 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Lentil Quinoa Burgers with Sautéed Mushrooms
Lentils are kitchen all-stars — they take less time to cook and are more versatile than many other legumes. This recipe takes advantage of their slightly meatier taste and turns them into a juicy patty that’s held together with lemon juice, cilantro, and walnuts.
3. Black Beans
Fiber: 15 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
Sweet potato pairs perfectly with the smokiness of chipotle peppers and adds even more fiber to this hearty bean dish. Loaded with complex carbs and protein, this cold-weather stew makes a perfect post-workout meal.
4. Lima Beans
Fiber: 13.2 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Leek and Lima Bean Soup with Bacon
Lima beans might sound unappetizing, but when cooked in bacon fat, paired with leeks, puréed into a soup, and topped with sour cream, they’re pretty darn delicious.
Fiber: 10.3 grams per medium vegetable, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Roasted Artichokes for Two
Packing more fiber per serving than any other vegetable, artichokes are curiously underused in most people’s kitchens (perhaps because they look a bit… prickly). Get creative and try this simple recipe with lime, garlic, and black pepper.
Fiber: 8.8 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Scallops on Minted Pea Purée with Prosciutto
Puréeing veggies is a great way to squeeze extra nutrients into any meal — this recipe comes together lightning-fast and is filled with protein, omega-3s, and, of course, fiber.
Fiber: 5.1 grams per cup, boiled.
Go-To Recipe: Paleo Broccoli Fritters
This caveman-friendly dish is pretty simple. To make these fritters, just combine onion, garlic, broccoli, eggs, and almond meal. Once they hit the table, you’ll be surprised how much broccoli gets finished in one sitting.
8. Brussels Sprouts
Fiber: 4.1 grams per cup, boiled.
Go-To Recipe: Hoisin Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Try this Asian twist on the old standard — this meal carries tones of ginger, sesame, and peanut that will keep you coming back for seconds (and maybe thirds).
Fiber: 8 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Raspberry, Coconut, and Oat Macaroons
Raspberries aren’t a hard sell — they’re basically nature’s candy. With the help of coconut, oatmeal, and vanilla, they make a relatively healthy dessert that pleases any palate.
Fiber: 7.6 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Blackberry Lemon Salad
Successfully mixing sweet and savory isn’t for the faint of heart, but this salad makes use of blackberries, lemon, scallions, and dill to great effect.
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