10 Easy Ways to Sneak More Fiber Into Your Day
While we obsess about protein, we ignore fiber — at our peril. Eating enough fiber is incredibly important. There is little to debate about that.
For starters, we now know that eating sufficient amounts of fiber is a critical part of maintaining a healthier gut microbiome – the microorganisms that reside in our digestive tracts and who play a role in digestive, immune and mental health. We need our gut to host a balanced environment consisting of various beneficial bacteria that do their best to keep the potentially harmful bacteria at bay. Fiber can help make this happen by nourishing and optimizing your microbiome. Non-digestible fibers are metabolized or fermented by bacteria in our GI tract, a process that produces compounds that are important food sources for the micro-critters so they can flourish and are also health-promoting compounds themselves.
And here is some news that should make you want to up your fiber game.
In a recent Lancet review of 185 studies and 58 clinical trials, researchers determined that if 1,000 people transitioned from a low-fiber diet (under 15 grams per day) to a diet with higher amounts (25 to 29 grams per day), it would prevent 13 deaths and six cases of heart disease. A separate investigation in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience suggests that is a link between a high-fiber diet and a lower risk for dementia.
Of major concern is that diet surveys show that an estimated 95% of American adults and children don’t meet the recommended daily fiber intake, which the Institutes of Medicine says is at least 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams for men.1 In America, the average daily fiber intake is estimated to be a paltry 16 grams. Too much meat and ultra-processed foods and too few whole plant foods. The typical amount of fiber consumed in modern times is a small fraction of what we evolved with.
Luckily, you don’t have to eat like a rabbit to get the fiber you need. Instead, once you have established the best foods for your unique biology all you need to do is to sneak in a shot of extra fiber to the meals and snacks you already eat. A little bit here and there adds up. Keep in mind that while foods high in fiber are nutritious, and can give you the fiber you need, they all may not be right for your body and your gut microbiome. Finding out what foods are best for your biology is the best way to go to ensure your fiber intake gives you the most benefits. Here are 10 simple ways to up your intake while also making your diet taste even better.
When making a bowl of yogurt
Add: Cacao nibs
These are made by pummeling dried cacao beans into small pieces – sugar-free chocolate that is about as close to its natural form as possible. Beyond adding deep chocolate flavor and a pleasant crunch to a bowl of yogurt, you might be surprised by the amount of microbiome-benefiting fiber they deliver – 8 grams in each 3-tablespoon serving. Cacao nibs are also a source of several essential minerals including iron, magnesium, copper and manganese as well as polyphenol compounds that can have a positive effect on the make-up of the microbiome to further up the health ante.2And in recent years, a raft of scientific studies have shown that consuming lower sugar cacao-containing products can help lessen the risk for various forms of cardiovascular disease including heart attack and heart failure.3
When making salads
Sweeten up your bowl of greens and bolster fiber by tossing in a handful or two of raspberries. A cup of this sweet-tart fruit contains an impressive 8 grams of fiber, which is more than most other commonly consumed fruit. And some of this fiber in raspberries is in the form of soluble fiber, which the microorganisms in your digestive tract love to work on and, in turn, produce compounds like short-chain fatty acids that have a range of health benefits.4
When making oatmeal
Add: Coconut flour
Want to make a steamy bowl of oatmeal an even bigger fiber powerhouse while simultaneously giving it a taste of the tropics? Then stir in a couple spoonfuls of coconut flour. Made by finely grinding up dried coconut meat, this power flour supplies about 5 grams of fiber in a 2-tablespoon serving to support better gut health. It’s also a source of plant-based protein and heart-healthy potassium.
When making pasta
Add: Legume noodles
For your next pasta night why not boil up noodles that deliver a lot more fiber for your buck? Penne, rotini and other pasta made with legumes like chickpeas instead of those produced from wheat flour contain about twice as much biome-improving fiber – 5 grams per 2-ounce serving. Research shows that consuming legumes can have a positive impact on microbiome diversity and abundance.5 As a bonus, you get about three times as much protein as well when you make this pasta upgrade. The texture and flavor of these products have continually been improving.
When making sandwiches
Add: Rye bread
When stuffing sandwich ingredients between two slices of bread for your lunch meal opt for what the Scandinavians are eating. Depending on how it’s made, a slice of hearty rye bread can have up to 6 grams of fiber, 2 to 4 times more than whole wheat bread. This is likely why scientific literature demonstrates that eating whole-grain rye bread can help better regulate appetite.6 Just be sure to choose brands that list rye flour or rye meal as the first ingredient. Some rye and pumpernickel loaves of bread are made mostly with refined wheat flour giving them less of a fiber power punch.
When making meatballs
Add: Ground flaxseed
Instead of using lackluster breadcrumbs in meatballs, meatloaf and veggie burgers opt for ground flaxseeds. The original superfood is a fiber heavyweight – each tablespoon supplies 2 grams of fiber. In fact, all of the carbs in flax are in the form of fiber, both insoluble and soluble fiber, with the latter being especially beneficial to microbiome health. Far from a one-hit wonder, flax is also a stand-out source of omega-3 fat to help support improved heart functioning.
When making grain bowls
Like other beans, these green soybeans are a surefire way to bolster fiber intake to help foster a more robust microbiome. Simply tossing a cup of them into your grain bowls, salads, and soups gives you an extra 8 grams of fiber. Impressive! Other nutritional highlights include a wide range of essential micronutrients including folate, magnesium, iron, and vitamin K. Look for shelled edamame in the frozen vegetable section of supermarkets and simply boil for a few minutes until tender.
When making chili
Underappreciated parsnips are a great way to bulk up chili, soups and stews with extra fiber. Each chopped cup of the root vegetable contains nearly 7 grams of fiber. That is an amount which puts carrots to shame. Plus, when parsnips are cooked they develop a wonderful nutty-sweet flavor. They are also a reliable source of vitamin C to support immune health and vitamin K, which a study in the Journal of Nutrition showed can lower the risk of premature death from conditions like heart disease when consumed in sufficient amounts.7
When making smoothies
Add: Oat bran
This is an effortless way to bolster the fiber content of your blender drinks. Oat bran is made up of only the outer shell (bran layer) of the oat groat seed so is especially concentrated in dietary fiber – roughly 2 grams in each tablespoon. A special type of fiber in oat bran called beta-glucan has been shown to have a positive impact on cholesterol numbers including lowering LDL cholesterol.8 And when blended well with other ingredients in a smoothie like berries and yogurt oat bran won’t noticeably alter the taste or texture.
When making muffins
Add: Chia seeds
Scream Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia anytime you are rustling up a batch of baked goodies like muffins, cookies, and sweet bread. Adding these salubrious seeds to the batter will certainly ramp up the fiber count to make baked goods less of a guilty pleasure. Each tablespoon of chia seeds supplies about 3 grams of fiber, a good chunk of which is soluble fiber to give your microbiome a boost. They are also your ticket to infusing your diet with more omega-3 fats and a wide variety of essential nutrients including iron, magnesium and calcium.
1 Reynolds, A. et al. (2019). [Carbohydrates and health of humans]. Available from thelancet.com.
2 Yamagishi, K. et al. (2022). [Dietary fiber and dementia, a study]. Available from tandfonline.com.
3 Filosa, S. et al. (2018). [Polyphenols, gut microbiota and brain degeneration]. Neural Regeneration Research, PubMed Central.
4 Ren, Y. et al. (2018). [Chocolate consumption and cardiovascular disease risk]. Heart, heart.bmj.com.
5 Wang, C. et al. (2021). [Study on gut microbiome and legume consumption]. PubMed.gov.
6 Forsberg, T. et al (2014). [Effects of whole grains for breakfast on energy and appetite]. Nutrition Journal, PubMed.gov.
7 Juanola-Falgarona, M. et al. (2014). [Vitamin K and mortality risk study]. The Journal of Nutrition, academic.oup.com.
8 Ho, V.T.H., et al. (2016). [Review of trials on beta-glucan on cholesterol for CVD risk]. The British Journal of Nutrition. PubMed. gov.