Are You Eating Enough Fiber?

Why fiber should be an important part of your weight-loss plan.

Interested in eating food that fills you up without weighing you down? Up your intake of dietary fiber. "Fiber adds texture, bulk and chewing satisfaction, which aids in eating fewer calories and still feeling full," explains Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientist of Weight Watchers International. So it's a dieter's friend. It has a host of other benefits, too, from stabilizing blood sugar levels to helping to prevent bowel problems and cancer.

So how much of this wonder substance should we be eating? In general, adults need a minimum of 20-35 grams of fiber per day, according to Jackie Newgent, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Right now, Americans are only getting around 15 grams — just half of what they need!" she says. Why so little? Many people mistakenly believe bran is the only form of fiber worth bothering about, and they just don't like the taste.

But fiber, the substance that makes up the cell walls in plants, is found in many foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Rather than focus on one source, such as bran, nutritionists recommend including a wide variety of plant-based foods in your diet.

Fiber Follies
However, don't fall prey to the misconception that because high-fiber foods (defined loosely as foods with more than 4 grams of fiber per serving) are beneficial, you can eat unlimited amounts of them. "These foods still contain calories," Miller-Kovach warns.

"In fact, there are many processed foods with added fiber that contain a lot of calories (e.g., a mega-bran muffin)," she says. "So rather than reaching for processed foods with added fiber, or even a fiber supplement, go for whole foods. My advice is to get your fiber from foods in which it naturally occurs, like fruit, vegetables and whole grains."

Upping Your Intake
Below are some easy ways to add more fiber to your diet. (Note: It's a good idea to increase your intake gradually, to avoid gastrointestinal problems like gas pains, bloating and diarrhea.)

  • Eat more vegetables whenever possible — serve them raw, and eat the skin rather than peeling it off.

  • Consume whole fruits rather than juice.

  • Choose whole-grain bread and pasta, and use whole-grain flour for baking.

  • Order brown rice instead of white.

  • Substitute lentils for some meat meals; stretch casseroles and soups by adding beans.

  • Drink more water as you up your fiber intake. Fiber absorbs moisture as it moves through your bowel, increasing your need for water.

Good Fiber Foods
These are particularly rich sources:

  • Oatmeal, muesli and high-fiber breakfast cereals such as All-Bran.

  • Beans, peas and lentils.

  • Potatoes, corn and broccoli.

  • Apples, bananas, pears and dried fruit such as prunes, dates and figs.

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