A diet rich in fiber offers numerous health benefits: lower blood cholesterol, improved blood sugar levels, lowered risk of digestive complications and prevention of constipation. A high intake of fiber can also help in weight loss efforts.
Types of Fiber
Dietary fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and plays a role in lowering cholesterol and glucose. Soluble fiber is found naturally in oats, beans, peas, apples, citrus, carrots and psyllium. Insoluble fiber is instrumental in helping move food through the digestive system. Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole wheat, vegetables, nuts and whole bran.
Your recommended fiber intake is based on your gender and age. According to the Mayo Clinic, women age 50 and younger should take in 25 grams of fiber each day. Women older than 51 can reduce that number to 21 grams. Men age 50 and younger should take in 38 grams daily. Men age 51 and older can reduce that requirement to 30 grams per day.
Eating a variety of fiber-rich foods is the best bet toward meeting your daily fiber requirements. The following list of fruits and their fiber content is based on one cup of each, unless otherwise noted: raspberries (8 grams), medium pear with skin (5.1 grams), medium apple with skin (4.4 grams), two medium dried figs (3.7 grams), blueberries (3.5 grams), strawberries (3.3 grams), medium banana (3.1 grams), medium orange (3.1 grams), and 1.5-oz box of raisins (1.6 grams).
Not all vegetables are equal in their fiber content. One cooked artichoke, for example, packs 10.3 grams of fiber, while one raw carrot delivers only 1.7 grams of fiber. Other vegetable sources of fiber (in one-cup servings, unless otherwise noted) include: cooked peas (8.8 grams), boiled broccoli (5.1 grams), boiled turnip greens (5 grams), cooked sweet corn (4.6 grams), cooked brussels sprouts (4.1 grams), medium baked potato with skin (4 grams), and 1/4 cup tomato paste (2.7 grams)
Grains (including cereals and pasta)
When choosing whole-wheat products, like sandwich bread, check the nutritional information on the package. Each serving should have at least 2 grams of fiber for it to be a beneficial source of fiber. On the ingredients list, whole-grain flour should be listed among the first three ingredients, replacing white flour. The following foods are rich in whole grains and provide good sources of fiber (fiber measurements are based on one-cup servings, unless otherwise noted: cooked whole-wheat spaghetti (6.3 grams), cooked barley (6 grams), medium oat bran muffin (5.2 grams), 3/4 cup bran flakes (5.1 grams), cooked oatmeal (regular or instant, 4 grams), three cups of air-popped popcorn (3.6 grams), cooked brown rice (3.5 grams), one slice rye bread (1.9 grams), one slice whole-wheat or multi-grain bread (1.9 grams).
Nuts, Seeds, Legumes
Beans, peas and nuts provide excellent sources of fiber (and protein) and can be easily combined with other foods to create main dishes. The following measurements are based on one-cup servings, unless otherwise noted: cooked split peas (16.3 grams), cooked lentils (15.6 grams), cooked black beans (15 grams), cooked lima beans (13.2 grams), vegetarian baked beans (10.4 grams), 1/4 cup hulled sunflower seeds (3.6 grams), one-oz. almonds (3.3 grams), one-oz. pistachio nuts (2.9 grams), one-oz. pecans (2.9 grams), pecans, 1 oz. (19 halves) 2.7 grams
The Mayo Clinic recommends that eating fruit at every meal can help ensure an adequate fiber intake. If you are increasing your fiber intake, however, add it gradually to your diet to prevent intestinal pain and bloating. As you add fiber, also add water. An increase in water consumption can help prevent constipation.