Filling Up on Fiber

Eat fiber for good health. High-fiber diets may lower risks of certain cancers, heart disease and even obesity. Learn the benefits of fiber and how to calculate the amount of fiber in foods.
Filling Up on Fiber - Articles
Filling Up on Fiber

What Is Fiber?

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, dried beans, split peas, and lentils. It is the part of plants that the body cannot digest easily. Fiber includes plant cell walls (cellulose) and other substances, such as pectin and gums. There is no dietary fiber in meat or dairy products.

We need to eat fiber for good health. A high-fiber diet may lower the risks for certain cancers, heart disease, and even obesity. Most Americans' diets contain, on the average, about 10 grams of fiber. Try to choose foods that add up to 20-30 grams of fiber per day. The chart on page 3 will help you figure how much fiber is in foods.

Remember that a diet too high in fiber (more than 35 grams per day) is not recommended. As is true of other nutrients, some fiber is needed--but too much can unbalance your diet.

Adding Fiber

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined a high-fiber food to equal 5 grams of fiber per serving. A good source of fiber equals 2.5 grams to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving.

There are many ways to add fiber to your diet:

  • Add sliced fresh fruit to cereal, yogurt, or cottage cheese.
  • Use whole grain breads (which contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving) in place of white bread.
  • Choose whole-grain crackers.
  • Use fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Eat vegetables at almost every meal and snack on fresh or dried fruit, raw vegetables, or low-fat popcorn
  • Use more beans and peas in meals. Try split pea or lentil soup, brown rice and beans, or chili.
  • Choose high-fiber cereals (5 grams of fiber or more per serving) for breakfast in place of refined, sugary cereals.
  • Eat potatoes with the skin.
  • When you cook vegetables, steam or stir fry until they are tender but still crisp.
  • Use sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, or wheat germ for toppings on casseroles, or add them to baked goods like quick breads and cookies.
  • Look for recipes using whole wheat or white whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour has 4 times the fiber of white flour.
  • In recipes, use brown rice instead of white. It has 5 times as much fiber. Whole wheat pasta has 3-4 times as much fiber as white pasta.

How Much Fiber Did You Eat Today?

Adults need 20-30 grams of fiber each day for good health. Consult the following chart to check how much fiber you ate today.

Table 1. Common foods and their fiber content
CategoryFoodAmountGrams of fiber
FruitsApple1 medium3.7
FruitsApple juice3/4 cup0
FruitsBanana1 medium1.8
FruitsCantaloupe1/4 melon1
FruitsCranberries, dried1/4 cup1.7
FruitsOrange1 medium3.6
FruitsOrange juice3/4 cup0.4
FruitsPeach1 medium1.4
FruitsPear1 medium6
FruitsRaisins1/4 cup2
FruitsStrawberries1/2 cup2
VegetablesBroccoli, cooked1/2 cup3.6
VegetablesBrussels sprouts, cooked1/2 cup2.2
VegetablesCabbage, raw1/2 cup1
VegetablesCarrot1 medium2.3
VegetablesCarrots, cooked1/2 cup2
VegetablesCorn1/2 cup2
VegetablesGreen beans1/2 cup1
VegetablesOnion, cooked1 medium0.8
VegetablesPeas, green1/2 cup3
VegetablesPotato, with skin1 medium3
VegetablesPotatoes, French fried10 strips1.6
VegetablesTomato1 medium1.6
VegetablesTomato juice3/4 cup1.4
Breads and CerealsBarley, pearled, cooked1/2 cup3
Breads and CerealsBran flakes3/4 cup4.2
Breads and CerealsBran muffin1 medium2
Breads and CerealsBread, white1 slice0.5
Breads and CerealsBread, whole wheat1 slice2
Breads and CerealsCereal or granola bar1 medium1
Breads and CerealsCorn flakes1 cup0.5
Breads and CerealsCrisp rice cereal1 cup0.1
Breads and CerealsOatmeal, cooked1/2 cup2.3
Breads and CerealsPasta, white1/2 cup1.3
Breads and CerealsPasta, whole wheat1/2 cup4.4
Breads and CerealsPopcorn1 cup1.2
Breads and CerealsRaisin bran cereal1 cup6.7
Breads and CerealsRice, brown, cooked1/2 cup1.5
Breads and CerealsRice, white, cooked1/2 cup0.3
Breads and CerealsShredded wheat1 cup6.1
Breads and CerealsTortilla, corn1 medium1.5
Breads and CerealsOat bran muffin1 medium13.1
Breads and CerealsWaffle, whole wheat2 squares3
NutsAlmonds, whole1/4 cup3.8
NutsPeanuts1/4 cup3.2
NutsPeanut butter2 Tbsp.3.4
NutsSunflower seed kernels1/4 cup3.9
NutsWalnuts1/4 cup2
LegumesBaked beans1/2 cup9.8
LegumesBlack beans1/2 cup6
LegumesKidney beans1/2 cup6.5
LegumesLentils1/2 cup7.8
LegumesLima beans1/2 cup6.5
LegumesNavy beans1/2 cup5
LegumesPinto beans1/2 cup6.4
LegumesSplit peas1/2 cup8.2

How Much Fiber Do Children Need?

Experts in children's nutrition agree it's important to teach children healthful eating habits when they are young. But what about fiber? We haven't heard much about its benefits for children.

We're beginning to understand fiber's importance in children's diets. It has key health benefits in promoting regularity. Fiber not only helps to maintain good health as children grow, it helps them establish eating patterns that may assist in reducing their risk of developing heart disease and some types of cancer later in life.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that after children are two years old, the fat in their diets should be lowered gradually until it reaches the level recommended for adults, around age five. As we lower the fat, we need to provide more foods rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

We do need to be careful how much fiber we give children. High-fiber diets can reduce the amount of calories children get because foods high in fiber tend to be bulky and low in calories. Fiber can also bind minerals so that they are not available for the child to absorb. But most children currently do not get enough fiber.

Dietary fiber should be increased gradually. Caution is especially prudent for groups that may not be getting enough calories or minerals, such as preschool children, adolescents with mineral-deficient diets, children with inadequate nutrition, and some vegetarian children who have nutritionally inadequate diets. The best way to add fiber is by increasing the amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, and other grain products consumed. It's also important for anyone who is eating more fiber to drink extra liquids, including water, juice, or milk.

So how much fiber should children eat? Until recently there were no formal guidelines geared for children's needs and their developmental cycle. Now we have a fiber recommendation for children ages 3-18. The new formula is the child's age plus 5. For example, a five-year-old child needs about 10 grams of fiber, 5 + 5 = 10. This formula allows for the greater need for fiber as the child grows.

Fiber Recipes

Banana Bread

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 2 cups mashed bananas (about 5)
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

With mixer, beat together sugar, eggs, and bananas. Add dry ingredients; mix well. Pour into loaf pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Makes 16 slices.

One serving provides 112 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams fiber, 81 mg sodium, and 0 grams fat.

Simple Chicken Pasta Salad

  • 4 ounces cooked pasta twists or bows
  • 1 6-ounce boneless chicken breast, poached, cooked, and cubed, or 1 cup cubed cooked chicken
  • 1 10-ounce frozen package chopped broccoli, thawed and drained, or 1 cup chopped fresh broccoli
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 16-ounce can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon Italian blend herbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients in salad bowl; cover and chill for 20 minutes. Makes 3 servings.

One serving provides 328 calories, 29 grams protein, 8 grams fiber, 471 mg sodium, and 4 grams fat.

One-Dish Meal

  • 1/3 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup canned or fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup rice (uncooked)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup cooked split peas or frozen thawed green peas

Put ground beef in a pan and cook over medium heat until browned. Drain off fat. Add tomatoes, rice, water, and pepper. Cover and boil gently about 25 minutes or until rice is tender. Add split peas. Heat moderately until hot. Makes 2 servings.

One serving provides 182 calories, 19 grams protein, 3 grams fiber, 290 mg sodium, and 3 grams fat.

Easy Brown Rice and Beans

  • 4 tablespoons brown rice
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 7-ounce can stewed tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery (1 stalk)
  • 1/3 cup chopped onions (1/2 medium onion)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper (1/2 medium)
  • 7-ounce can red kidney beans (or 1/2 14-oz can)
  • Pinch of garlic powder
  • 2 drops hot sauce
  • Dash of pepper

Cook rice in water until water is absorbed. In skillet cook chopped celery, onion, and green peppers slowly over low heat about 10 minutes. Add drained canned beans, stewed tomatoes, and seasoning. Bring to a boil, and then simmer uncovered about 10 minutes. Add cooked rice and mix. Makes 2-3 servings.

One serving provides 75 calories, 5 grams protein, 4 grams fiber, 214 mg sodium, and 1 grams fat.

Yummy Yams

  • 3 medium yams
  • 1 cup dried prunes (soaked, drained)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons margarine
  • 2 tablespoons fruit juice (orange, apple, etc.)
  • Pinch of mace, pinch of ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel and cut yams into 1/4-inch slices, and steam. Arrange layer of yams on bottom of oiled, small baking dish. Dot with margarine. Top with layer of prunes. Alternate layers until all is used. Blend the rest of the ingredients together and pour over potatoes and prunes. Bake at 350° for about 35 minutes. Makes 3 servings.

One serving provides 447 calories, 7 grams protein, 17 grams fiber, 473 mg sodium, and 3 grams fat.

Apricot Rice

Cook 1/4 cup long-grain rice with 1 1/2 cups water till tender; drain. Drain one 8 3/4-oz can apricot halves, saving 3 tablespoons syrup. Combine syrup, cooked rice, and 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate. Spoon into 2-cup baking dish; top with apricots and bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Makes 2 servings.

One serving provides 93 calories, 1 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 6 mg sodium, and 0 grams fat.

Sloppy Joes with Beans

  • 1 pound lean ground turkey*
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can kidney beans, drained, rinsed and mashed
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can Sloppy Joe sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 hamburger buns or toasted bread (try whole wheat)
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Spray skillet with cooking spray. Brown turkey and onion over medium heat. While turkey is browning, drain and rinse beans and mash with a fork. Add beans, Sloppy Joe sauce, garlic powder and pepper to turkey. Simmer for 2 minutes. Toast hamburger bun halves. Assemble sandwiches by placing 1/8 of Sloppy Joe mixture between toasted buns. Makes 8 servings.

* To reduce fat, pour browned turkey and onion into a colander and rinse with hot water, return to pan.

One serving provides 300 calories, 21 grams protein, 7 grams fiber, 730 mg sodium, and 7 grams fat.