Fiber intake in the US is startlingly low. The daily recommended amounts of fiber are 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women, but less than 10% of Americans are meeting these requirements. This is especially worrisome as inadequate fiber intake has been linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
To help bridge this intake gap, food companies market processed breakfast cereals, granola bars and even brownies with added fiber. While these products can help increase the overall fiber in one's diet, the type of fiber used in these products may actually do more harm than good. The added fiber usually comes in the form of a chicory root extract called inulin. Inulin is a non-digestible carbohydrate that resists hydrolysis and is highly fermentable in the gut. For those with a history of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), this fermentation can lead to undesirable symptoms like severe gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Rather than reaching for packaged foods with added fiber to get our fiber fix, we should be increasing the amount of whole grains, vegetables and legumes in our diet — which, let's face it, most of us already know. Though these foods are the real fiber superstars, other less obvious whole foods can also make a serious contribution to daily fiber intake. So ditch the packaged food fiber-boosters and focus on filling any gaps with unexpected fiber sources, like the foods below:
1. Preserved lemon
Since you're eating the entire fruit (including the peel and rind) preserved lemons provide fiber in addition to bright citrus flavor. Try adding preserved lemon to salad dressings, pestos and braises. One half a lemon provides about 3 grams of fiber.
2. Sunflower seeds
In addition to acting as a crunchy salad topper and great source of protein, shelled sunflower seeds can contribute to overall fiber intake. A quarter of a cup contains about 4 grams of fiber.
Healthy fats are not the only thing avocados are full of. One-quarter of an avocado has about 3 grams of fiber.
The cruités dipped in hummus are usually touted as fiber superstars, but the hummus itself shouldn't be ignored. Thanks to the chickpeas and tahini within, a 2 tablespoon serving of hummus has about 3 grams of fiber.
Popcorn (not the pre-portioned microwave stuff) makes a tasty afternoon snack and also confers a few different health benefits. It is a great source of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols and also contributes about 5 grams of fiber per 4-cup serving. To add variety to your snack routine, give popped sorghum a try.
6. Almond butter
Almond butter is more than a plant-based protein source. If made with whole almonds, it provides 3 grams of fiber per two tablespoon serving.
7. Shredded, unsweetened coconut
Added to granola, smoothies or yogurt, shredded coconut brings texture, a tropical flavor and some fiber to breakfast or snack time. A 2-tablespoon serving of shredded coconut has 4 grams of fiber. (Be sure to grab the unsweetened kind!)
These salty salad toppers provide heart healthy fats, potent antioxidants and a modest amount of fiber. A serving of 10 olives (servings size depends on the olive type) provides about 2 grams of fiber.
9. Cacao powder
Saving the best for last, cacao powder (the raw, unprocessed form of cocoa powder) is a potent source of antioxidants and also fiber. Try a mug of hot chocolate made with 2 tablespoons of cacao powder for a chocolaty treat with 5 grams of fiber.