Virtually every weight-loss program welcomes “good carbs” as part of a healthy, lean, long-term diet. “Good carbs” refers to complex carbohydrates, foods like whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds that are composed largely of complex sugar molecules requiring lots of time and energy to digest into the simple sugars your body needs for fuel.
One of the biggest benefits of foods rich in complex carbs is that they also contain large amounts of fiber. Fiber, in basic terms, is the indigestible parts of plant foods. It is the husk on the grain of wheat, the thin strands in celery, the crunch in the apple, the casings on edible seeds. Fiber protects you from heart disease, cancer, and digestive problems. Depending on the type of fiber (there is more than one!), it lowers cholesterol, helps with weight control, and regulates blood sugar.
Bottom line: This is one nutrient you don’t want to miss. Yet the average American gets just 12-15 grams of fiber a day—far below the recommended 25-30 grams. And that was before so many people started cutting carbs for weight loss, without realizing they were also cutting out healthy dietary fiber. Here’s how to sneak “good carbs” and extra fiber into your daily diet with a minimum of effort.
1. Eat cereal every day for breakfast. Ideally, aim for a whole grain, unsweetened cereal with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. Just eating any cereal might be enough, however. A University of California study found that cereal eaters tend to eat more fiber and less fat than non-cereal eaters. Healthy, high-fiber cereals you might want to consider include Kellogg’s All-Bran Original, Kashi GOLEAN, and Kellogg’s Raisin Bran.
2. Eat two apples every day. Not just to keep the doctor away, but because apples are a good source of pectin, a soluble fiber that contributes to a feeling of fullness and digests slowly. One study found that 5 grams of pectin was enough to leave people feeling satisfied for up to four hours.
3. Make a yogurt mix every Wednesday for breakfast. Take one small container of yogurt and mix in 1/3 cup All-Bran cereal, 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds, and 5 large, diced strawberries for a whopping 12.2 grams of fiber—nearly half your daily allowance!
4. Eat baby carrots and broccoli florets dipped into low-fat ranch dressing as your afternoon snack three days a week. You’ll fill up the empty space in your tummy while getting about 5 grams of fiber in each cup of veggies.
5. Keep a container of gorp in your car and office for the munchies. Mix together peanuts, raisins, a high-fiber cereal, and some chocolate-covered soy nuts. Allow yourself one handful for a sweet, yet high-fiber, snack.
Next: What to add to your salads
6. Switch to whole-grain crackers. You’d never think a tiny cracker can make a difference, but one regular whole wheat cracker has 1/2 gram of fiber. Ten crackers give you 5 grams of fiber. So next time, spread your peanut butter on whole-grain crackers (look for brands that proclaim they’re trans-fat-free) instead of bread.
7. Mix your regular cereal with the high-test stuff. Okay, we’ll be honest. We wouldn’t want to face an entire bowl of All-Bran either. But just 1/3 cup packs a walloping 8.5 grams of fiber. Mix it with an equal amount of, say, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios and you’ll barely know it’s there (but you will be one-third of the way to your daily fiber intake). Check out the Nature’s Path brands, which offer several truly delicious, high-fiber choices.
8. Add kidney beans or chickpeas to your next salad. A quarter cup adds an additional 5 grams of dietary fiber, notes Lisa Andrews, R.D., a nutritionist at the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati.
9. Make sure that the first ingredient in whole-grain products has the word “whole” in it, as in “whole wheat,” or “whole grain.” If it says multi-grain, seven-grain, nutra-grain, cracked wheat, stone-ground wheat, unbromated wheat or enriched wheat, it’s not whole wheat, and thus is lacking some of the vitamins and minerals, not to mention fiber, of whole grains.
10. Every week, try one “exotic” grain. How about amaranth, bulgur, or wheatberries? Most are as simple to fix as rice, yet packed with fiber and flavor. Mix in some steamed carrots and broccoli, toss with olive oil and a bit of Parmesan or feta cheese, maybe throw in a can of tuna or a couple of ounces of cut-up chicken, and you’ve got dinner. Or serve as a side dish to chicken or fish. Make sure all grains you try are whole grains.
Next: Clever tricks to swap in oatmeal
11. Once a week, make pearl barley (which doesn’t require any soaking before cooking) as a side dish. One cup sports 10 grams of fiber, nearly half your daily allotment.
12. Sneak in oatmeal. Use regular oatmeal in place of bread crumbs for meat loaf and meatballs, sprinkle it atop casseroles and ice cream, bake it into cookies and muffins, and add it to homemade breads and cakes.
13. Use whole wheat bread to make your sandwich every day. Even Subway and other such sandwich shops offer whole wheat options for lunchtime munching. If you want to gradually break into the whole wheat club, use whole wheat bread as the bottom slice of your sandwich and regular bread as the top layer, suggests Joan Salge Blake, R.D., clinical assistant professor of nutrition at Boston University’s Sargent College. Eventually, make the switch to whole grains.
14. Every week, switch from a white food to a brown food. So instead of instant white rice, you switch to instant brown rice. Instead of regular pasta, you switch to whole wheat pasta. Similarly, whole wheat pitas instead of regular, whole wheat burritos instead of corn, whole wheat couscous instead of regular. Within two months, you should be eating only whole grains, and should have increased your daily fiber consumption by an easy 10 grams without radically changing your diet!
15. Spread your sandwich with 1/2 cup hummus. Bam! You just got 7.5 grams of fiber in a tasty package. Lay some spinach leaves and a tomato slice atop for another couple of grams.
Next: Delicious ideas for eating beans
16. Make beans a part of at least one meal a day. They’re packed with fiber (15 grams in just a cup of black beans) and, since they come canned, so easy to use. Just rinse before using to remove excess sodium. Here are some tips for getting your beans:
- Puree a can of cannelloni beans for a tasty dip. Add 2 cloves garlic and a tablespoon each of lemon juice and olive oil to the blender. Use as a dip for veggies and whole grain crackers.
- Spread nonfat refried beans on a whole wheat burrito and sprinkle with chopped chicken and shredded cheese.
- Use 1/2 cup black beans and salsa as a filling for your morning omelet.
- Make a bean salad with canned black beans, fresh or frozen corn kernels, chopped cilantro, chopped onion, and chopped tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and a dash of vinegar, salt, and pepper.
- Make your own special chili pizza. Top a prepared (whole wheat) pizza crust with some kidney beans, shredded cheese, and ground turkey cooked with chili flavorings.
- Start serving edamame (soybeans) as a side dish. You’ll get 4 grams of fiber in 2/3 cup of the sweet legumes, not to mention the cancer-fighting phytonutrients inherent in soy.
17. Add pureed cauliflower to mashed potatoes. You won’t taste a difference, but you will get some extra fiber, say the nutrition twins, Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D., and Lyssie Lakatos, R. D. The two are the authors of Fire Up Your Metabolism: 9 Proven Principles for Burning Fat and Losing Weight Forever.
18. Have a beet salad for dinner. These bright red veggies have virtually no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium, quite a bit of potassium, and 2 grams of fiber. Try roasting whole, peeled beets for 45 minutes, chilling, then dicing into a summer salad.
19. Make rice pudding for dessert tonight. Only instead of white rice, use brown.
20. Snack on popcorn. The microwave variety works just fine, but we prefer air-popped popcorn without the oil. Each cup of popcorn delivers 1.2 grams of fiber.
Next: What to add to sandwiches to replace cheese
21. Switch to whole wheat flour when baking. You can start by going half and half, eventually using only whole wheat flour for all your cooking needs.
22. Throw some flaxseeds, wheat germ, or other high-fiber add-ins into batter. They add crunch to your cookies, muffins, and breads—and loads of fiber.
23. Eat the skin of your baked and sweet potatoes. Eating baked potatoes with the skin instead of mashed ups the fiber at least 3 grams (depending on the size of the potato).
24. Start every dinner with a mixed green salad. Not only will it add fiber, but with a low-calorie vinaigrette dressing, it will partially fill you up with very few calories, and thus offers great benefits in weight loss/control.
25. Always add lettuce and tomato slices rather than cheese to sandwiches. Not only do they add fiber, but they also reduce calories.
Next: How to sneak fiber into your drinks
26. Use beans or lentils as the main protein source for dinner once or twice a week. A classic dish such as pasta e fagioli works well.
27. Make your fiber sources suit the seasons. A cold lentil salad, or corn and black bean salad in summer, then vegetarian chili in winter.
28. Snack on dried fruit every day. Tasty, chewy, satisfying, easy to eat on the go—and loaded with fiber. Try dried apricots, dates, figs, peaches, pears, and bananas.
29. Drink your fiber. Make your own smoothies by blending whole fruits (cut out the big seeds). If everything in the fruit goes into your glass, you’ll get the fiber from the edible peel, often missing from fruit juice.
Don’t Forget To…
Drink plenty of water. You need water to help the fiber pass through your digestive system without getting, ahem, stuck. So as you’re increasing the fiber in your diet, also increase the amount of water or other unsweetened beverages you’re getting.
Also, don’t up your fiber load all at once. That’s just going to overwhelm your system, leading to gas, bloating, and constipation. Instead, start slowly. Try one tip a week for the first couple of weeks, then two, then three. By week four or five, you should be up to the full 25-30 grams—or more.