One of the most striking differences between the caveman’s diet and our own is the amount of fiber our ancestors ate: about 100 grams a day, the amount some people in rural areas of the
developing world still get.
The average American, on the other hand, consumes only about 15 grams of fiber per day, well below the recommended 25 grams. The cavemen didn’t know it, but all of that fiber had countless health benefits, from lowering cholesterol to helping control (or maybe prevent) diabetes.
There are two types of fiber. Insoluble fiber, such as wheat bran, helps prevent constipation and may protect against colon cancer. It also fills your stomach, helping to quench hunger without calories. Soluble fiber, found in foods such as fruits, oats, barley, and peas, has more to do with lowering cholesterol. Soluble fiber forms a kind of gel in your intestines that helps reduce your body’s absorption of the fat you eat. And if that fat never makes it into your bloodstream, it can’t do its damage by raising your blood cholesterol levels.
Studies find that eating 10 to 30 grams of soluble fiber a day — much more than the average American eats — reduces LDL about 10 percent. (Remember, Americans average 15 grams of fiber, including both soluble and insoluble.)
One analysis of 67 different studies concluded that for every gram of soluble fiber you add to your diet, you can expect an LDL decrease of 2.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). So if you added just 10 grams a day — less than a cup of baked beans — you could see your level drop 20 points.
The best fiber-rich foods? Here are our top 10:
1. Dried beans, peas, and other legumes. These include baked beans, kidney beans, split peas, dried limas, garbanzos, pinto beans, and black beans.
2. Oatmeal and bran cereals.
3. Vegetables. Top contenders are fresh or frozen lima beans and green peas, sweet corn, broccoli, green snap beans, pole beans, broad beans, carrots, and Brussels sprouts.
4. Dried fruit. Figs, apricots, and dates top the list.
5. Fresh fruit (with skin). Particularly raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, plums, pears, apples, and cherries.
6. Whole wheat and other whole grain products. These include rye, oats, buckwheat, and stone-ground cornmeal, as well as bread, pastas, pizzas, pancakes, and muffins made with whole grain flours.
7. Baked potato with skin.
8. Greens. Some of the best include spinach, beet greens, kale, collards, Swiss chard, and turnip greens.
9. Nuts. Especially almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts, and walnuts.