Research demonstrating fiber’s ability to help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and play a powerful role in digestive health (reducing the risk of cancer in the lower gastrointestinal [GI] tract) put it on the nutritional map long ago. Then new research exposed fiber’s ability to act as a prebiotic and boost beneficial microbes in the GI tract, helping manage hunger, weight, and blood sugar (and therefore diabetes). This on top of its satiety factor—also a key to weight and blood sugar management.
But with all this knowledge, there’s still a disconnect: We’re not eating enough fiber. While we should eat at least 25 grams per day (and the recommendations will soon be raised to 38 grams per day), for the last two decades, the average fiber intake has held steady at around 10 to 15 grams.
The main reason for this inconsistency is that the best and most flavorful natural sources of fiber are fresh fruits and vegetables, and we eat less than half the recommended amount of foods from that group. Meanwhile, convenience foods and baked goods that are high in fiber typically lack texture and flavor. And as carbohydrates go, fiber adds density and absorbs moisture, both qualities that block flavor in food formulations.
Adding fiber to your diet can start at breakfast with the inclusion of such easy-to-keep, easy-to-use sources as nuts and dried fruits. Stirred into highfiber breakfast classics such as oatmeal or cream of wheat (or the increasingly popular barley), they’ll double your fiber intake in a single meal. Speaking of the most important meal of the day, the recent availability of hot cereals featuring higher-fiber grains such as barley brings more variety and flavor to the game.
Another fiber solution is resistant starch, a form of starch that acts as and can be counted as fiber but doesn’t have the negative texture or flavor associations. Resistant starch, found naturally in certain foods, delivers the fluffiness and softer textures we crave, yet in the digestive system it behaves as a fiber, providing bulk and increasing transit time through the GI tract, boosting satiety through its physical and biochemical actions and helping control weight and balance blood sugar and hunger hormones.
Resistant starch is found in potatoes, yams, parsnips, beans, peas, oats, barley, rice, corn, and other whole grains as well as bananas and mangoes. One large, slightly underripe banana has 5 grams of resistant starch. Slice it into a cup of rice pudding for breakfast and you get 10 grams of fiber.
Finally, powdered fiber products have moved way beyond the sawdustlike wheat husks and cellulose to sweet pea flour and coconut flour. Blended into a breakfast or midday smoothie, they actually add sweetness and creaminess along with 6 grams of fiber per 2-tablespoon serving.