Surprisingly, most people don’t eat nearly enough dietary fiber. To the tune of eating only 39 to 60% of the recommended daily intake (which is something between 25 - 38 grams per day)[*]. The result? You might be missing out on some serious digestive benefits, or worse, have a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers[*].
So, eating fiber should (and is!) part of a healthy diet. How does your current diet stack up?
Here’s what’s covered:
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is simply the indigestible elements of plant-based food (e.g., cellulose, resistant starch, lignins, and other stuff)[*]. Unlike most food we eat, fiber passes through our digestive system pretty much intake because we don’t have the enzymes or bacteria needed to digest it. Well, that’s not entirely true.
Humans use some elements of fiber after it’s fermented inside of us. Yup, the brewing happens in the small intestine by yeast, after which the fibrous material gets eaten by good bacteria to promote gut health. Because around 70% of the immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract [*], eating sufficient (and good quality) fiber can have a huge impact on your health.
Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
Fiber is fiber, right? No so fast.
Fiber comes in two main forms: soluble and insoluble. While most plant-based foods contain a combination of both fibers, ratios can vary dramatically. Both can improve digestion and boost health, but they work a little differently. Here’s how...
Picture cereal that's been left to stand in moisture for a while. What happens? The cereal expands and becomes a mushy pulp. This is pretty much how soluble fiber works too.
On its journey through the digestive tract, soluble fiber absorbs water and expands, becoming soft and viscous. Because of its thick consistency, soluble fiber moves through the digestive system at a slower rate. Oats, peas, barley, beans, avocados, apples, blueberries, and psyllium are all great sources of soluble fiber.
Often referred to as roughage, insoluble fiber is found mainly in the skins, peels, and seeds of plants. Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber retains most of its original shape and texture. Because of its rough and bulky nature, insoluble fiber collects waste and physically pushes out other partially digested foods, speeding up the elimination process. An easy way to grasp the action of insoluble fiber is to think of it as broom sweeping your digestive tract clean. Some excellent sources of insoluble fiber include celery, wheat bran, beans, legumes, brown rice, green beans, and root vegetables.
Benefits of Eating High-Fiber Foods
You’ve read about it in health magazines, heard it from doctors, and chances are your mother told you too: fiber is a vital part of any diet. But while it’s easy to overlook fiber until digestive dysfunction rears its ugly head, research shows that the benefits are far more comprehensive than most people realize [*].
Here are a few reasons why you should be filling up on fiber:
Best High-Fiber Foods
The average adult's daily fiber requirements clocks in at around 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams for men. Here are some great high-fiber foods to help you meet your recommended intake:
#1. Navy Beans
All beans are fiber-filled powerhouses, but navy beans (and white beans) top the list with a single cooked cup packing an impressive 19 grams of fiber. Not only do navy beans take care of over half of your daily fiber requirements, but they also deliver around 15 grams of protein.
Calories - 1 cup, cooked: 255
Fiber: 19 grams
#2. Split Peas
One cup of boiled split peas contains a whopping 16 grams of fiber. You’ll also get around 16 grams of muscle-feeding protein as well as a generous serving of iron. So go ahead, and indulge in a hearty bowl of split pea soup.
Calories - 1 cup, cooked: 231
Fiber: 16 grams
These tiny legumes pack a mighty nutritional punch with a single cup of cooked lentils containing around 14.5 grams of fiber, 16.5 grams of protein, and 34% of your daily iron requirements.
Calories - 1 cup, cooked: 323
Fiber: 14.5 grams
Aside from offering a generous 7 grams of fiber, one whole medium artichoke is also a great source of magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, and folate. They're also relatively low in calories, making them a great choice if you're looking to shed a few pounds.
Calories - 1 artichoke, medium: 64
Fiber: 7 grams
Despite being high in calories, this creamy-textured fruit is packed with heart-healthy fats and boasts approximately 10 grams of fiber per whole medium avocado. Avocados also contain high levels of potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A.
Calories - 1 medium avocado: 250
Fiber: 10 grams
#6. Green Peas
Your mom was right — you really should eat your peas. These little green balls of goodness contain 8.8 grams of fiber and are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, thiamine, and manganese.
Calories - 1 cup, cooked: 134
Fiber: 8.8 grams
Deliciously sweet and juicy, raspberries are rich in antioxidants and even have anti-inflammatory properties. They're also low in calories and deliver a very respectable 8 grams of fiber per cup.
Calories - 1 cup: 65
Fiber: 8 grams
If you prefer blackberries over raspberries, you’ll be happy to learn that they contain equal amounts of fiber (8 grams). As an added bonus, a single cup of blackberries takes care of 50% of your daily vitamin C requirements and, just like raspberries, they make a great low-calorie snack.
Calories - 1 cup: 62
Fiber: 8 grams
Broccoli might not be everyone's favorite, but you'd be doing yourself a huge disservice by writing this cruciferous vegetable off completely. A single cup delivers 169% of your daily vitamin C requirements, just under half of your daily vitamin A needs, and a good dose of calcium and iron too. On top of that, you’ll be getting 5.1 grams of fiber, all in an exceptionally low-calorie package.
Calories - 1 cup: 55
Fiber: 5.1 grams
#10. Whole Wheat Pasta
Craving some carbs but still need to get a good helping of fiber? Then whole wheat pasta will satisfy both your palate and your body. With 6.3 grams of fiber per cup and a healthy combination of iron, magnesium, zinc, manganese, selenium, and thiamine, whole wheat pasta is a healthy, high carb indulgence.
Calories - 1 cup, cooked: 174
Fiber: 6.3 grams
#11. Pearled Barley
Fantastically versatile, barley makes a great addition to soups or stews and can even be served as a side dish. One cup will provide you with 6 grams of fiber as well as 12% of your daily iron requirements.
Calories - 1 cup, cooked: 193
Fiber: 6 grams
Oats aren't the go-to breakfast choice among fitness fanatics for nothing. Not only is it filling, but oats also help regulate blood sugar and contain just over 6 grams of protein and 3.7 grams of fiber per cooked cup.
Calories - 1 cup, cooked: 145
Fiber: 3.7 grams
Pears make a delicious snack and could even pass for a healthy dessert along with a dollop of yogurt. They're satisfyingly sweet, low in calories, and contain 5.1 grams of vitality boosting fiber.
Calories - 1 medium pear: 96
Fiber: 5.1 grams
Ever heard the saying, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"? Well, it turns out there might be some truth to it. Apart from offering 4.4 grams of gut-healthy soluble fiber, apples also contain a good deal of vitamin C for a low-calorie, immune boosting snack.
Calories - 1 medium apple: 95
Fiber: 4.4 grams
Despite being a relatively high calorie snack, almonds are super nutritious. Almonds deliver 3.5 grams of fiber per serving (that's 24 almonds, in case you're wondering) and they're also rich in vitamin E, calcium, and iron.
Calories - 24 almonds, raw: 164
Fiber: 3.5 grams
Easy Hacks To Eat More Fiber
Need more fiber, but just can't stomach the thought of downing another whole fruit or vegetable? Don't fret. These sneaky tips can help you achieve your nutritional goals as painlessly as possible.
Hop on the Hummus Bandwagon
Hummus is creamy, delicious, and packed with protein, heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and fiber.
- Spread two tablespoons on your next sandwich for a 1.2 gram fiber boost (psst! — using whole wheat bread will add another 5.9 grams of fiber to your meal).
- Or, use half a cup as a veggie or whole grain cracker dip to score 4.9 grams of fiber while you snack.
Chow Down on Chia Seeds
Proof that dynamite comes in small packages, chia seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and provide a whopping 5 grams of fiber per tablespoon.
- Mix some in with your smoothie, morning cereal, or yogurt. Just be prepared for a thick texture — chia seeds suck up moisture like crazy and produce a gel-like texture.
- Their high rate of absorbency and unique texture also makes them ideal for puddings. For an easy, high-fiber dessert, snack, or breakfast, grab a mason jar and mix six tablespoons of chia seeds with two cups of almond milk, half a teaspoon of vanilla essence, and a sweetener of your choice. Stir well and leave to set for a couple of hours or overnight.
Add Oats to Everything
If you've only been eating oats for breakfast, you're missing out. Think out of the box and add oats wherever you can — you'll be upping your fiber intake and saving some cash at the same time.
- Making meatloaf or burgers for dinner? Add a quarter cup of oats for every 2lbs of ground beef.
- Toss a couple of tablespoons of oats into a smoothie for a bit of texture and a thicker consistency.
- Oatmeal cookies are always a hit, but you can incorporate oats into a variety of other baked goods as well, so get online and root out those recipes.
Drink Your Fruits and Veggies
Juices are great, but when it comes to filling up on fiber, whole fruit and veg smoothies have a definite edge.
- Mix up a variety of fruits and veggies for a blend of fiber and nutrients.
- Add even more fiber by sneaking in a couple of tablespoons of oats or ground flaxseed (one tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains 2.2 grams of fiber).
Snack on Popcorn
- Three cups of air-popped popcorn packs 3.5 grams of fiber and only 93 calories.
Half Is Better than Nothing
Making the switch to fiber-filled pasta and rice can take some getting used to, but you don't have to do it all at once.
- Try substituting half of your regular pasta for whole wheat pasta and mix the two together for a gentler transition.
- The same applies to rice. Rather than taking an all or nothing approach, mix your regular rice with brown rice to help you get accustomed to the deeper flavor and textures of fiber-rich variants.
And Don't Forget...
Adding more fiber to your diet can help you stay regular, but be sure to drink plenty of water to keep things moving along. Without adequate hydration, too much fiber can have the opposite effect, causing your digestive system to become backed up and bloated.
Not turning cartwheels over our favorite high-fiber foods? Don't give up on fiber just yet!
Although we tried to include a varied selection of high-fiber foods in our line up, we know that everyone's palate is different. If you didn’t find anything appealing in our top 15 high-fiber foods list, there are a host of online resources to help you find a better match (or other great options to add to your diet). Try searching your favorite fruits, veggies, legumes, grains, and nuts using tools like SELF NutritionData for a full nutritional rundown. Happy fiber-hunting!