On the excitement scale, you might think reading about fiber is right up there with watching paint dry. But don’t turn that virtual page—learning more about this nutritional superhero could change your life. And what better time to start thinking about fiber than the first meal of the day?
Fiber is an important part of a healthy lifestyle because it helps you feel full sooner and longer and minimizes the impact of carbs on your blood-sugar and insulin levels, making weight management easier. A high-fiber diet also reduces your risks for a host of ailments, including heart disease1, digestive disorders2, diabetes3 and certain cancers4. Of course, if regularity is your problem, fiber is your friend. All that's pretty impressive for something you don’t even digest.
Fiber’s only found in plant foods, and some plants are better sources than others. Although there are two kinds of fiber—soluble and insoluble—worrying about which kind you’re getting might be more trouble than it’s worth. Most high-fiber foods have some of both, and both are good for you.
According to the Institute of Medicine, women should get 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day and men 30 to 38 grams a day, so it behooves you to know where the big numbers are. And, it turns out, lots of those big numbers are in foods that are naturals for the most important meal of the day—breakfast. Use the morning meal to jump-start your fiber intake and you’ll find the recommended amount becoming a realistic goal.
Here are several great ways to help you get the fiber you need for optimal health. Choose what works best for you.
- VEGETABLES: Before you think that veggies are an unconventional breakfast choice, remember the omelet. Add half a cup of cooked spinach (3.5 grams of fiber) and two cups of mushrooms, which cook down to half a cup, (add 2.4 grams) and you’ll have a fiber bonanza. Add a half cup of black beans (7.5 grams) to your eggs by whipping up huevos rancheros or a breakfast burrito wrapped in a low-carb tortilla (9 grams). Don’t forget the salsa; it doesn’t have appreciable fiber content, but it does make things taste better.
- GRAINS: A classic breakfast choice is some kind of whole grain. That’s whole grain—refined grains have had most of the fiber and other nutrients milled out of them, leaving a refined carbohydrate that bears a striking nutritional resemblance to sugar (although it’s usually fortified with small amounts of iron, B vitamins and folate). Because you can subtract the grams of fiber (they have no significant impact on blood sugar) from grams of total carbs in whole grains, the high fiber content lowers the net carb content significantly.
- CEREALS: Oatmeal is the quintessential hot cereal, and along with that tummy-warming satisfaction, you’ll get a nice dose of fiber. A quarter of a cup of “old-fashioned” rolled oats (uncooked) boasts 4.1 grams of fiber and, along with an added source of protein such as nuts or an egg, will give you the staying power to get you to lunchtime. If you don’t have the five minutes to make oatmeal, though, there are a number of ready-to-eat cereals that are high in fiber. To find the best ones, seek out whole-grain cereals with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving and no added sugars.
- Low-Carb and Whole-Grain Breads: Lower-carb breads and tortillas can be a great source of fiber; look for those with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. Look for 100 percent whole-grain bread (the term “multigrain” doesn’t ensure it is all whole grain; check the ingredient list). Spread your toast with two tablespoons of a natural peanut butter for another 1.9 grams of fiber.
- CEREAL MIX-INS: To significantly boost your cereal bowl’s fiber content, try adding a quarter cup of toasted wheat germ (3.8 grams), a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds (3.3 grams) or two tablespoons of slivered almonds (1.6 grams) or other nuts. (All of these are also great sprinkled over plain, whole-milk or reduced-carb yogurt.)
- FRUITS: Don’t choose fruit juices—you’re just paying someone to take the fiber out of your food. Instead, eat the fruit itself, and get 3.1 grams of fiber. You can get a serious fiber bang for your carb buck with berries (a half cup of raspberries adds 4 fiber grams, blackberries add 3.8 and blueberries or strawberries add 1.7) and kiwis (2.7 grams per fruit). Always accompany fruit with protein and/or fat such as nuts or cheese to slow any negative impact of the natural sugars on blood-sugar levels.
- BREAKFAST BARS: You can’t beat them for convenience, but choose carefully—many bars have only a gram or two of fiber, and most are loaded with added sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Read the labels and look only for those that have no added sugars and at least 6 grams of fiber. Atkins Morning Start™ Breakfast Bars (up to 9 grams of fiber) and Advantage™ bars (up to 11 grams of fiber in most flavors) are great choices—both are available in an array of flavors, so your taste buds can be pleasantly surprised every day of the week.
With all the options, most of you ought to be able to mix and match your way to 8 to 10 grams of fiber at breakfast without much hassle at all. That’s oatmeal with flaxseeds and almonds, a vegetable frittata with some berries on the side or whole-grain toast with natural peanut butter. And just so you know we’re flexible: There’s no rule against having any of these fiber-rich goodies for lunch!
- Ludwig D.S., Pereira M.A., Kroenke C.H., et al., “Dietary Fiber, Weight Gain, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Young Adults,” Journal of the American Medical Association. Oct. 27, 1999; 282(16), pages 1539–1546.
- Yancy, W.S., Jr., Provenzale, D., Westman, E.C., "Improvement of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease After Initiation of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet: Five Brief Case Reports," Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 7(6):120, 2001, pages 116–119.
- Salmerón, J., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M.J., et al., "Dietary Fiber, Glycemic Load, and Risk of Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus in Women," Journal of the American Medical Association, 277(6), 1997, pages 472–477.
- Folsom, A.R., Demissie, Z., Harnack, L., "Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, and Incidence of Endometrial Cancer: The Iowa Women's Health Study," Nutrition and Cancer, 2003, 46(2), pages 119–124.