If you’re falling short of your daily fiber quota—at least 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men—you could be missing out on more than just roughage. “Eating a variety of naturally fiber-rich foods helps people be healthier even if they’re not focusing on fiber, per se,” says Diana Fleming, PhD, coauthor of The Full Plate Diet (Bard, 2009). Not only do high-fiber, low-fat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans and other legumes help sate hunger, they’re also packed with minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant nutrients.
No wonder studies suggest such foods may protect against heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, all while helping keep you regular. Unfortunately, adults get an average of only 15 grams of fiber daily. Boost your intake by chowing on these six fiber power foods.
A mere 2 tablespoons of these tiny seeds boast 6 grams fiber—that’s more than any other whole food, including flaxseed. (And yes, chia seeds come from a field-grown version of the same plant [Salvia hispanica L.] as the pet-shaped planters.) Animal studies suggest chia could help lower triglyceride levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol, says Wayne Coates, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. Preliminary human studies suggest the seeds may also help control appetite, reduce inflammation, decrease blood pressure, and moderate post-meal blood sugar surges.
Fit them in: “Chia seeds are essentially flavorless, so they can be added to almost anything, from salads to smoothies,” Coates says. “And chia seeds have a soft seed coat, so you don’t have to grind them.” He adds them to peanut butter sandwiches for extra crunch.
Many legumes—including pintos and black beans—pack around 15 grams fiber per cooked cup, says Jeane Wharton, executive director of the U.S. Dry Bean Council.Fiber helps slow the rate at which beans are digested, so they don’t spike blood sugar levels.And studies suggest beans’ fiber, along with other beneficial plant compounds, may help reduce risk of breast and colon cancer, as well as decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Blackberries and raspberries
With 8 grams fiber per cup, these two berries rank highest in fiber among common fruits. Both berries also offer abundant vitamin C and polyphenol antioxidants, which are thought to fight inflammation. In an eight-week study, middle-aged adults who ate two daily servings of berries, including raspberries, boosted their good cholesterol 5 percent.
Fit them in: Skewer berries along with other summer fruits; serve with a yogurt dip. Or, simmer berries with a little water and sugar; top buckwheat pancakes or whole-grain waffles.
A popular Mexican vegetable, jicama’s(HEE-kuh-muh) inedible thin, brown skin encases crisp, slightly sweet, white flesh, a bit like water chestnut. “In Mexico, jicama is traditionally eaten raw as a snack,” says Ida Rodriguez, corporate executive chef at Melissa’s/World Variety Produce in Los Angeles. “Street vendors cut jicama into french fry–size sticks; then squeeze on fresh lime juice and sprinkle with chili powder.” One cup of raw jicama slices has 6 grams fiber—twice the amount in a cup of carrot sticks—and is an excellent source of vitamin C.
Fit it in: Julienne-sliced jicama adds crunch to stir-fries and salads, including coleslaw. Or, chop and add to soups. For a fast fiber snack, pair raw jicama sticks with hummus.
With 6 grams per cooked cup, oat bran ranks as the highest fiber oat product; a cup of cooked oatmeal offers 4 grams. The total includes soluble fiber known as beta-glucan, which absorbs water and binds to cholesterol-derived bile acids in the gut, ultimately lowering blood cholesterol levels, says Mohsen Meydani, DVM, PhD, at Tufts University in Boston. Plus, oats contain unique polyphenols called avenanthramides. “We speculate that these antioxidants’ anti-inflammatory effect may help to reduce atherosclerosis and probably colonic cancer,” he says.
Fit them in: Add oat bran to coatings for fish and chicken. In homemade baked goods such as muffins and cookies, use oat bran to replace up to a fourth of called-for flour.
More fiber-filled foods
Pear, with skin, 1 medium, 5.5 g
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked, 1 cup, 6.2 g
Split peas, cooked, 1 cup, 16.3 g
Lentils, cooked, 1 cup, 15.6 g
Artichoke, cooked, 1 medium, 10.3 g
Peas, cooked, 1 cup, 8.8 g
Sunflower seed kernels, 1/4 cup, 3.9 g