For me the three most important factors are:
- Lowers blood cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol levels. Epidemiological studies have shown that increased fiber in the diet can reduce blood pressure and inflammation, which is also protective to heart health.
- Helps control blood sugar levels. Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can slow the absorption of sugar, which for people with diabetes can help improve blood sugar levels. A diet that includes insoluble fiber has been associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Aids in weight loss. High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you're no longer hungry, so you're less likely to overeat. Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time. And high-fiber diets also tend to be less "energy dense," which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
No other dietary change has as big an impact on your overall health. Trying to eat "low-carb" you end up eating too much fat. "Low fat" often means high sugar, and "sugar-free" foods are usually full of fat or artificial, chemically created sweeteners like Splenda.
So these are a few ways I have been able to go from the usual American fiber intake of less than 20 grams a day, to a healthier 30 - 35 grams a day.
I start the day with a very high fiber, whole grain cereal. Uncle Sam's, sold at Safeway and Trader Joe's, has a whopping 10 grams of fiber in a 3/4 cup serving. Oatmeal is good too, as are many others. You have to READ the labels and find one you like!
I don't use any sugar, but I do top the cereal with 1/2 cup frozen blueberries (I put them in the cereal bowl and microwave it for a minute or so to defrost them.)
This gives me another 2 grams of fiber. I use Almond Smooth non-dairy beverage instead of milk.
Strawberries are also a very good choice over cereal.
I usually have one other fruit during an average day. A banana has 2 or 3 grams of fiber, an apple has 6,
and an Asian Pear has 10. I choose an apple or pear.
If I want a sweet, I'll have some dried plums (AKA prunes) or a few dates or dried figs. Cookies don't have fiber! Fruit does.
Now, I also have a stash of what I have jokingly called "chocolate covered cardboard", but are really tasty, and quite satisfying with a cup of afternoon tea. (6 grams of fiber for 140 calories.)
No more white bread. A slice of my bread or Orowheat Double Fiber gives me another 5 grams.
I look at the fiber content of every single thing I eat. I've been eating a lot of alternative grains instead of white potatoes. It is not the fiber count for potatoes as much as the carbs and fat from butter and gravy one tends to dress them with.
Lentils, quinoa, bulgur, and brown rice are all better than white potatoes. But if you eat potatoes, eat the skin because thats where the fiber is!
Yesterday I found a box of whole wheat couscous that I'm going to try. I haven't tried whole wheat pasta yet, but then I haven't had any regular pasta either for a long time.
I have a recipe for whole wheat pizza dough that is on my list for this week. The topping will not be traditional cheese and sausage!
I generally cook from scratch using fresh ingredients. One cookbook and online recipes that I use a lot are from "EatingWell". I have their cookbook for serving two, and I find a lot of the recipes I choose online are from them as well. This is not "diet food." It is just healthier choices.
- Add beans to your salads or soups. Chick peas, Lima beans, and kidney beans all come in those little 8 oz. cans. 4 oz. of Lima beans have 100 calories and 8 grams of fiber. Divide a can between two salads or bowls of soup.
- Bell peppers: red, yellow, green, and orange have a good fiber count and are easy to add to salads, or eat as a snack. If I put a plate of pepper strips on the table with a meal, they disappear very quickly.
- Tomatoes: cut a tomato in half and bake or grill it and you add 2 more grams of fiber to your meal. Cooked tomatoes are better for you than fresh.
- Cabbage is an easy fiber booster. I have a recipe that adds shredded cabbage to chili, which lowers the calories and increases fiber. I have been making coleslaw with a low-cal dressing as a side dish more often.
- Barley: you can cook up a few cups of it and keep it in the refrigerator. Add a half cup to a bowl of tomato soup for lunch or an afternoon pick-me up.
- Sweet potatoes and squash: not all squash, but some like acorn squash are very high in fiber. I make sweet potato oven fries and garlic fries that we both love more than potato fries.
- Edamame: the trendiest bean on the planet! Good for snacking but can be used in cooking in place of other beans.
- Crackers? Read the labels. 16 Wheat Thins (Reduced Fat) have 130 calories and 3 grams of fiber. Sometimes you just want a crunch.
Etc. Etc. Etc. I have increased my fiber intake by reading and making choices. Nothing fancy. No pills, no supplements, just good simple foods.