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Beans, Beans, Good for Your Heart: Easy Ways to Amp Up Fiber Intake

Posted by Valerie Henderson on Jun 1st 2020

Think the biggest shortfall in most diets is vitamins or minerals? Think again. It's actually fiber. The American Heart Association recommends a total dietary fiber intake of 25 to 38 grams each day from foods, not supplements, yet most of us average a mere 15 grams daily.

Think the biggest shortfall in most diets is vitamins or minerals? Think again. It's actually fiber. The American Heart Association recommends a total dietary fiber intake of 25 to 38 grams each day from foods, not supplements, yet most of us average a mere 15 grams daily.

Fiber has some seriously awesome health benefits. First, foods high in fiber fill our tummies with fewer calories, making them key to maintaining a healthy weight. Second, fiber lowers bloodstream cholesterol levels and reduces heart attack danger. Third, fiber can help protect against type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer. And last, but definitely not least, fiber prevents and relieves constipation.

The bottom line (pun intended) is that adding a plethora of fiber-rich foods to your diet, and to the diets of those you care for, is a simple way to boost health and add variety to meals.

Beans & lentils

Beans and lentils are virtual superfoods—high in fiber, B vitamins, iron, protein, and other nutrients. Dried lentils and beans taste the best, but require a bit of soaking time. If you don't have the time or inclination to soak, buy low-sodium canned beans and rinse them in a strainer before preparing.

Short on meal ideas that involve legumes? We love these simple recipes for black bean salad, white bean chicken chili, lentil soup, and easy garbanzo bean-based homemade hummus. Beans can even be delicious in brownies. Yep, we said it.

Fruits & veggies

Most experts suggest consuming three to five cups of fruits and vegetables daily, but all produce isn't created equal. Some standouts in the fiber-rich category are carrots, pears, artichokes, avocados, baked potatoes with the skin, dried fruits, and okra.

When preparing produce, rinse thoroughly, but try to leave the skin intact—that’s where most of the fiber is—and serve veggies raw or lightly cooked whenever possible. Snacking on raw carrots, broccoli, celery, or cauliflower with low-fat sides like this healthy yogurt ranch dip is one of the fastest, easiest ways to consume fiber.

If you need to cook veggies, steam them briefly so they retain as many nutrients as possible. Or roast them for a super easy side, like these crispy balsamic brussels sprouts. But if you’re caring for someone who needs softer foods, boil away. Even well-cooked veggies are a great source of fiber.

Whole grains

In addition to being high in fiber, whole grains are a great source of B vitamins and other nutrients. If you’re in a hurry, start your day with oatmeal or a bowl of low-sugar, whole grain cereal containing at least five grams of fiber per serving and reduced-fat milk, then top with raisins or berries.

For lunch, opt for wholesome grainy bread if you go the sandwich route. Just one slice can contain as many as four grams of fiber, adding up to eight grams per sandwich. Don’t rely on a "wheat bread" label—it doesn't mean whole wheat. Furthermore, even a loaf designated as "whole wheat" may contain a ton of refined flour. Instead, look for loaves that list whole wheat flour, rolled oats, oat bran, or wheat germ as key ingredients.

At dinnertime, try whole grain or spelt pastas, which have a lot more fiber than standard supermarket versions. We’ll be honest—this was a hard transition for us at first, because whole wheat and spelt versions tend to have a slightly chewier texture and a stronger taste. You you might want to start with half whole grain and half refined pastas, which are sold in many health food stores.

Another option is sticking with supermarket spaghetti and adding some of the veggies and legumes we mentioned above to add fiber to recipes. We’re not vegan, but this creamy avocado pesto pasta is the bomb. If that one seems too ambitious, start simple—even adding peas to mac and cheese is a step in the right direction.

A word to the wise: Take in more fluids than normal, and start slowly. It takes time for the digestive system to handle extra roughage, and too much too fast can cause gas and bloating.

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