We all know they're good for us. As children, we learned that high-fiber Foods -- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes -- aid digestion. Now we're discovering that fiber can help protect against obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Yet most of us still don't get enough fiber.
"Almost everyone needs to increase his or her intake of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables," says Cathy Nonas, a dietitian at North General Hospital in New York City. Most Americans consume less than half the recommended daily amount of fiber, which is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. For women and men over 50, the amounts are a bit less: 21 and 30 grams, respectively.
We offer elegant ways to help meet those goals, beginning with a wholegrain breakfast bread. Later in the day, try a salad with greens and grilled chicken, or whole-wheat pasta with veggies. There's even dessert: oranges with candied nuts. You might just forget that fiber is good for you, and focus instead on how great your food tastes.
Variations on a (Healthy) Theme
Dietary fiber, which comes from plants, is easy to work into your diet. Start with any of the fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, or legumes at left -- they're all good sources -- or try one of the recipes on these pages.
Do You Know?
Five grams of fiber a day -- about the amount in a single serving of many bran cereals -- may cut your risk of heart disease by as much as one-third.
Soluble Versus Insoluble
Both types of fiber have health benefits. Soluble fiber, as the name suggests, holds water. It binds to and helps eliminate cholesterol, boosting heart health. Soluble fiber also normalizes blood glucose and insulin levels, and this can help prevent or manage diabetes. Insoluble fiber, sometimes referred to as roughage, facilitates digestion.
Both kinds of fiber fill up the stomach with few calories, helping to control weight. Food labels reveal total grams of fiber but don't distinguish between the two types. Not to worry, dietitian Cathy Nonas says: "The bottom line is to increase fiber generally." Many high-fiber foods contain both sorts of fiber, but here are some foods especially rich in one or the other.
Found in most fruits and vegetables, including raspberries and broccoli; whole-wheat foods, such as bran, bread, bulgur, and pasta; and nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and sunflower seeds.
Good sources include oats and oat bran; legumes, such as chickpeas and pinto beans; and fruits, such as oranges and apples.