Healthy Eating: Fiber time

Eating more fiber is easier said than done, so check out our Top 10 list of the best and worst sources of this healthy nutrient.

Granola 311 (photo credit: Courtesy/MCT)
Granola 311
(photo credit: Courtesy/MCT)
Fiber is a very hot topic within the world of nutrition. You’ll see it splashed across product packaging and it is a buzz word among health professionals. But do you know what fiber is, why it's so good for your health, and where you can find it?
In simplest terms, fiber is the part in plant foods that our body cannot digest, unlike other fats, proteins or carbohydrates — which our bodies break down and absorb— our bodies don’t digest fiber. It's put together in such a manner that our bodies cannot break it down, and it passes through our bodies relatively untouched, thereby providing us with no calories. However, even though it may seem like fiber does not do much, as it's not even absorbed by our system, it plays several important roles in maintaining and even improving our health.
Among the obvious functions, fiber does all sorts of great things for our bodies, such as lower blood cholesterol levels, control blood sugar levels and slow digestion, thereby keeping us feeling full longer and also helps with weight loss. So how much fiber should be consumed each day? The National Academy of Sciences recommends adults under age 50 should consume 25 to 38 grams, while those over age 51 should consume 21 to 30 grams.
Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. The difference? Insoluble fiber keeps our digestion moving smoothly, while soluble fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
Having understood why fiber is important, you must be wondering where one can find it? What are the best sources of fiber? Foods like Fiber One cereal market the fact that it is loaded with fiber goodness, but what are some other high fiber foods? Here is a list of some of the top fiber sources on the planet, as well as some of the biggest (fiber) traps.
1. Fiber Star: Chia Seeds
We've heard over and over again that Chia Seeds are an incredible source of Omega-3 fatty acid – they even trump the omega-3 all-star, Salmon. Did you know that this seed reigns in the fiber world? Packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber, Chia Seeds offer 5 grams of fiber per serving. Sprinkle them on top of your yogurt in the morning or your salad at lunch, and start taking advantage of these tiny seeds’ major health benefits..
2. Fiber Deceiver: Granola
The word 'deceiver' applies to granola on all accounts. For the longest time granola has been proclaimed as a healthy food, and with rolled oats, dried fruits and nuts, why wouldn’t it be? What slips our eye most of the time is how many calories and how much sugar is lurking inside of this seemingly healthy food (one bowl easily crosses the 400 calorie line). While granola does contain some fiber, it is on the very low end (often only 3 grams per serving), and so does little to counteract the other not-so-good-for-you ingredients.
3. Fiber Hero:Raspberries
Raspberries are known for their high vitamin and anti-oxidant content, and now you can add one more healthy nutrient to the list – fiber. Most fruits provide a healthy supply of this important nutrient, however, the tiny raspberry knocks most of its competition out, when it comes to fiber. Loaded with 8 grams per cup, this serving size offers the same amount of fiber as 3 whole grain slices of bread.
Raspberry’s fellow berry friend – the blueberry – is also jam packed with fiber.
4. Fiber Villain:Canned peaches
For the most part, canned fruit contains the same nutrients as the fresh version. However, when it comes to peaches, there is a significant different and it is all due to the fiber. Canned peaches are peeled and are, therefore, lacking their fibrous skin. Watch out as canned peaches, like many canned fruits, are typically stored in sugary syrup which can add a lot of empty calories as well as negate some of the peaches health benefits.
5. Fiber Champion:Oatmeal
Oatmeal is the perfect combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, offering an ample supply of both. However, that’s not all. Oatmeal is rich in a specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan, which has been proven to lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol levels and slow down glucose absorption. It is also the secret ingredient that helps to slow the digestion of your meal down, allowing you to feel full and satisfied for several hours. Now, not all oatmeal makes it onto the best fiber foods list, but the ones that do are packed with fiber goodness. Stay clear of instant 'flavored' oatmeal, which is typically loaded with sugar. Instead, opt for the old-fashioned kind such as groats rolled in flakes or steal-cut oats.
6. Fiber Loser: Brownbreads
Most of us know that white bread contains little fiber, but what about brown bread? The grocery store shelf is typically packed with a variety of different breads, most of them brown – but does this mean they are good for you? Unfortunately, no. The kernel of most grains, including wheat, consists of three main parts: the bran (the outermost layer of the grain) followed by the endosperm (the main part of the grain) and the germ (the smallest part of the grain). Whole grains contain all three layers and therefore breads such as whole wheat or whole grain, which contain the bran and germ layer (the two most nutritious parts of the grain) are not stripped of any of their nutritional content. However, the darker color of most brown breads in grocery stores is due to molasses and not to the presence of the outer layers of the grain, and as a result these breads are not a great source of fiber. To avoid falling into this deceptive trap, make sure to check the ingredients of your bread, as well as nutritional information to make certain it contains 3-5 grams of fiber per serving.
7. The Fiber Underdog: Artichokes
When you think of healthy fiber-loaded vegetables, broccoli and cabbage probably come to mind, but what about artichokes? Most of the time this veggie is easily overlooked when healthy food lists are being compiled. However, this is a real shame, as artichokes are one of the healthiest vegetables around. Packed full of fiber, a medium-sized artichoke offers just over 10 grams of this healthy nutrient – that’s 40% of your daily dose.
8.The Fiber Con Artist: Spinach artichoke dip
So if artichokes are loaded with fiber, then by association shouldn’t spinach artichoke dip be good for you? After all, it contains fiber as well as iron and vitamin from the spinach. Unfortunately, that's the not the case. Spinach artichoke dip is by far one of the most deceptive foods on the planet. Just a few tablespoons pack a few hundred calories, and not to mention mounds of unhealthy fat. Even worse, it contains no fiber whatsoever.
9. The Fiber Conqueror: Avocado
Once upon a time, women avoided avocado and its high fat content like the plague. However, times have changed and we have embraced avocados for their high quantities of healthy unsaturated fats. But now there is one more reason to embrace this fruit – fiber, and lots of it in fact. A whole avocado provides13 grams of dietary fiber, that’s just over 50% of your daily serving.
10. The Fiber King: Peas
It’s best to always end on a high note, especially when talking about fiber content. Peas typically get overshadowed on the dinner plate by other greenish vegetables such as broccoli and green beans. However, peas can definitely hold their own when it comes to their health benefits. Loaded with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, peas are one green you should never overlook. To top it off, one cooked cup of split peas offers a whopping 13.4 grams of fiber- that’s roughly 50 percent of one’s daily intake of fiber.