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Column: How to increase your daily fiber intake

Guest Column by Emily Schmidt

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She enjoys writing, cooking and spending time with her son and family.

Emily Schmidt

We often hear about how beneficial fiber is for us and that we need a lot more of it. After all, the average American is only consuming around 15 grams per day, compared to the average needs of 25-30 grams per day. Fiber, the roughage — or non-digestible part of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and seeds — is great for digestive health, prevention of heart disease and cancer, blood sugar control, helping us feel full longer and more. However, many of us still struggle to incorporate fiber into our meals and snacks. Here are some helpful tips for doing just that:

Breakfast

If you’re normally a cereal eater, hot or cold, try adding fruit, nuts or seeds. Banana slices, berries, dried fruit, walnuts, chia seeds or ground flaxseed are great additions. Choose higher fiber varieties of cereal by ensuring there is a minimum of 2 or 3 grams of fiber per serving. Other options are having chunky peanut butter on whole grain toast, choosing whole fruit instead of juice and adding vegetables such as peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach to your scrambled eggs or omelet.

Lunch

Swap out your bread or wrap for a whole-grain version. Remember to look for “whole-grain” or “whole wheat” as the first ingredient in the ingredients list. Include vegetables and fruits however you can, whether it’s a salad, adding vegetables to your sandwich or wrap, or raw veggies with hummus. Beans, an excellent source of fiber, are a great addition to salads. Add fruit, granola, nuts or seeds to your yogurt, or add fruit to cottage cheese.

Supper

Make half of your plate vegetables, whether cooked or raw. Beans, peas or lentils can be eaten as a side dish or incorporated into soups or many other dishes. Choose whole grains such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta or a small baked potato with the skin.

Snacks

Examples of great fiber-containing combinations: a handful of nuts and a small piece of fruit, one slice of whole grain bread with one tablespoon chunky peanut butter, raw vegetables with hummus and a string cheese, or a serving of plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries and chia or flax seeds added. All of these examples also contain protein sources, which will help to keep you satisfied longer in combination with the fiber.

On a budget

It’s still possible to get more fiber in your diet on a budget. Some foods that are relatively inexpensive but also high in fiber include brown rice, oatmeal, beans or lentils, fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season and on sale, frozen vegetables, peanuts and whole-grain bread or tortillas.

Other tips

If you’re not used to eating a lot of fiber on a regular basis, start increasing it slowly. If not done gradually, you may experience excessive gas, bloating or abdominal pain. Add only a few extra grams of fiber each week. There is also such a thing as too much fiber — eating more than around 50 grams daily can also cause digestive symptoms for many people. Additionally, drinking plenty of fluids is equally important since fiber draws extra fluid to our digestive system.

Bottom line: Increasing your intake of this vital food component is very worth it. Between improving digestive health and taking steps toward possible chronic disease prevention, the time to focus on fiber is now!