Daily minimum for a green badge: 28 grams per 2,000 calories
Meal minimum for a green badge: same (9 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet)
Why fiber is so important
Fiber is not an essential vitamin or mineral, and it is a type of carbohydrate, but it has all kinds of health benefits. For example, dietary fiber can help with weight control. It does not provide calories, since humans cannot obtain calories from it, and it slows digestion, so it can increase feelings of fullness. In addition, fiber is often in filling or low-calorie foods, such as vegetables, beans, and fruit.
Dietary fiber consumption is linked to lower risk for diabetes and more stable blood sugar levels. In addition, fiber lowers cholesterol levels and may lower risk for heart disease. Other possible effects include lower risk for hypertension and cancer.
Fiber has another, indirect, benefit. Since less-processed, high-nutrient foods tend to be the best sources of fiber, having a high fiber intake usually is a good indicator of a high-quality diet. It may mean that you are eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and/or nuts. At the same time, it may mean that those healthy foods are crowding out less-healthy foods and you are not eating much processed, fatty, or sugary food.
Where to get fiber
Fiber is only in plant-based foods, not in dairy products, eggs, or meat. It is in unprocessed and less-processed foods, while cooking, juicing, and other processed can lower or eliminate fiber content. These are some good sources of fiber.
- Whole grains, including whole-wheat products, oatmeal, and bran cereals.
- Non-starchy vegetables, such as tomatoes, spinach, celery, carrots, broccoli, artichokes, asparagus, eggplant, beets, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, butternut, acorn, and other types of winter squash, corn
- Fruit, such as apples, oranges, pears, bananas, strawberries and other berries, kiwi, cantaloupe, tangerines
- Beans, such as garbanzo, black, navy, pinto
- Split peas, cowpeas, black-eye peas
- Nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, cashews, pine nuts, Brazil nuts.
- Seeds, such as sunflower, chia, flax, pumpkin
Tips for getting more from your fiber choices
- Less-processed foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains, have more fiber than more-processed versions, such as fruit and vegetable juices and refined grains.
- Adding non-starchy vegetables to any meal or snack can add fiber and make it more filling without adding many calories.
- Having beans or a veggie burger sometimes instead of meat for a protein source can increase fiber intake and lower cholesterol and saturated fat intake.
- High-fiber snacks include vegetables with peanut butter, fruit with nuts, and whole-wheat crackers with cottage cheese and tomatoes.
Ideas for getting more fiber
- Pea soup with onions, carrots, and parsnip browned in a pan with olive oil, with split peas, a handful of barley, low-sodium broth, a bay leaf, and pepper added. Boil it, then simmer until the peas are cooked.
- Spread hummus in a whole-grain pita and stuff with baked falafel or chicken and grilled eggplant, zucchini, or bell peppers or sprouts, spinach, and tomato slices.
- Scramble eggs or tofu with black beans, zucchini, spinach, and onions, add a dash of paprika and chili powder, and serve in a whole-grain tortilla or with avocado or fresh fruit.
- Vegetarian chili with beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, onions, seasoning, and (optional) soy protein (textured vegetable protein) and/or cashews.
- Peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, and add diced apple and cinnamon instead of jam.