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For too long, fiber has been a neglected orphan in the American food family. Gritty drinks, supersized pills and cardboard-like bran cereal seemed to be the only alternatives for adding fiber to one's diet. Maybe the lack of options explains why the typical American consumes only half of the recommended daily amount of fiber ( 25 to 38 grams).
Fiber's numerous health benefits, however, cannot safely be ignored. A reduced risk of heart disease is one important benefit of a high-fiber diet. Fiber also stabilizes blood glucose levels, thereby helping to prevent and manage diabetes. Consuming essential fiber also lowers the risk of infectious and respiratory diseases. And a diet high in fiber has one additional advantage for those of us seeking to lose weight: foods high in fiber keep us feeling fuller longer than nonfibrous foods do, thereby making our appetite and impulse eating more manageable.
Because of the cumulative benefits, fiber is in the driver's seat for food manufacturers who are busily incorporating fiber into food products. For example, inulin, a prebiotic fiber found in chicory root, is being used as a fat replacement in milk products (such as cottage cheese and yogurt), margarines, baked goods and dressings. Inulin tastes creamy, so the additive can be incorporated into foods without advertising its status as a fiber.
Other isolated fibers being added to food include maltodextrin, oat fiber, soy fiber, modified wheat starch, sugarcane fiber and polydextrose. These added fibers, however, do not provide the benefits of fiber found naturally in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
In our commitment to eat more healthfully, we don't have to sacrifice taste or rely on food additives. Here are 10 delicious tips for adding more fiber to your diet:
1. Change your spreads. For example, make a hummus spread (chickpeas, olive oil and spices) for a sandwich filling.
2. Bake healthy. Replace flour in baked goods with puréed breakfast cereal. Run the breakfast cereal through a blender and substitute an equivalent amount for up to half the flour in baked recipes. Oatmeal works particularly well in pancake recipes. Replace calorie-laden crusts with crushed cereal-laden crusts. Purée whole-grain crackers or cereal and add enough melted butter and water to press into a crust.
3. Choose whole fruit over juice. For maximum fiber, eat fruits with edible seeds, such as blueberries, kiwi, raspberries and figs. Other fruits high in fiber are apples, pears, oranges, dried and fresh plums, raisins, pineapples and bananas.
4. Eat plenty of vegetables. Vegetables high in fiber include greens, eggplant, beets, winter squash, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, okra, artichoke hearts, peas, corn, white and sweet potatoes and beans. Snack on popcorn and nuts.
5. Fake fried chicken and fish. Purée your favorite cereal with spices. Coat chicken or fish first in low-calorie yogurt, then roll in cereal bread crumbs. Bake in oven for crispy treat.
6. Eat occasional vegetarian meals. Add vegetables in sandwiches, top pizza with vegetables and incorporate vegetables in sauces. For example, pureed carrots added to spaghetti sauce increase fiber.
7. Give your salad some crunch salad. Toss a fistful of your favorite cereal on your salad before you put on low-calorie dressing. And add unpeeled salad fixings (cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, radishes and so on) for extra fiber.
8. Top off dishes with cereal. Use a fistful of cereal as a topping for yogurt, ice cream, pudding, cottage cheese or even soup.
9. Make your own fiber bars. Combine oatmeal, other cereal, raisins, cranberries, dried cherries or other dried fruit. Pour a mixture of melted chocolate chips and skim milk over the cereal and stir. Chill in a flat pan, cut and serve.
10. Replace white pasta and white rice with whole grain pasta and brown rice. Quinoa pasta can double as both a carbohydrate and source of protein. Other grains are also high in fiber, such as barley, bulgar, kasha, amaranth and couscous.
Use these creative tips to make sure you consume adequate amounts of fiber. You can be confident that consuming a diet high in fiber will tip the scale in favor of weight loss and optimum health.
Photo credit: little blue hen on Flickr.