Fiber: people talk about it all the time. Doctors, nutritionists, actors in TV ads, the list goes on — but while a lot of people pay lip service to fiber, it still gets a bad rap.
The usual shtick? “It’s good for you, but it tastes awful.”
Even though fiber is a veritable rock star when it comes to heart health, many people think eating fiber-filled food is like chewing on some unholy combination of cardboard and tree bark. I mean, there’s even a commercial in which a dude says “Fiber makes me…sad.” Enough said.
The truth, however, is that fiber can be incredibly, mind-bogglingly delicious. Add that to the fact that it’s incredibly, mind-bogglingly good for you, and its rock star status gets elevated to Bon Jovi-meets-Justin Beiber proportions.
So what, exactly, is fiber?
First, the technical stuff: as described by the Mayo Clinic, fiber is composed of all parts of plant fiber that your body can’t absorb. While your body is able to absorb other components of food — namely protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals — fiber passes through your digestive system relatively intact.
There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance during digestion, while insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and helps food move more quickly through your digestive tract.
Why hearts and arteries love fiber
According to the American Heart Association, high-fiber foods are linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
How does fiber do it?
There’s compelling evidence to suggest that fiber helps lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol — and since low LDL cholesterol is a key component of heart health, fiber may well play an important role in keeping your cardiovascular system in good condition. Additionally, high-fiber diets are linked with lower rates of other conditions often associated with heart disease, like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
How to easily (and deliciously) incorporate more fiber into your life
Beans, whole grains, nuts, fruits and veggies are all fantastic sources of fiber. To get an idea of how they can be easily and deliciously incorporated into a meal — at any time of day — here are some suggestions:
- Cooked whole-grain cereal with fresh fruit and nuts:
- Oatmeal (or, for extra points, steel-cut oats) with chopped apples, cinnamon, brown sugar and chopped walnuts
- Quinoa with raspberries, honey and almonds
- Buckwheat with blueberries, bananas, honey and pecans
- Eggs with veggies:
- Scrambled eggs or egg whites with onions, garlic and spinach
- An omelet with steamed broccoli and low-fat cheddar cheese
- Salads loaded with heart-healthy condiments (and if you’re so inclined, feel free to add grilled chicken or deli meat to these for some extra protein):
- Sweet: Fresh spring mix with raspberries, blueberries, chickpeas and cinnamon-coated almonds; recommended dressing: balsamic vinaigrette
- South of the Border: Fresh chopped romaine with black beans, onions, chopped red peppers, avocado and roasted pumpkin seeds; recommended dressing: Bolthouse Farms Salsa Ranch Yogurt Dressing
- Mediterranean: Fresh chopped romaine with red onions, chickpeas, olives, feta cheese and chopped red peppers; recommended dressing: red wine vinaigrette
- Asian: Fresh spring mix with snow peas, shredded Napa cabbage, shredded carrots, canned Mandarin orange segments, almonds and optional baked tofu or tempeh; recommended dressing: ginger vinaigrette or peanut sauce
- Whole-Grain salads:
- Quinoa with grapes, grilled chicken, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar
- Wheat berries with chopped raw veggies (there’s a lot of flexibility here — you can do broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, celery…basically, whatever appeals to you can be thrown in) and champagne vinaigrette dressing
- An apple with almond butter
- Celery sticks with peanut butter
- Carrot sticks with hummus
- Fresh fruit: sliced cantaloupe, pineapple or kiwis are all great options
- Fruit and nut trail mix
- Granola bars (be sure to look at the sugar count in store-bought granola bars, though — look for low-sugar options like KIND or Luna bars)
- Soups and Stews:
- Italian: Lentils with spicy Italian chicken sausage, carrots, celery, tomato paste and chicken broth
- Moroccan: Chickpeas, carrots and chicken topped with raisins, almonds, and fresh cilantro
- South of the Border: Black beans, chili beans, ground turkey, onions and bell peppers cooked with chicken broth and packaged taco mix
- Snow peas, broccoli, peppers, and chicken or lean beef, prepared with ginger, garlic, soy sauce and brown rice
- Whole-grain pasta with marinara, sauteed spinach and meatballs
- Whole-grain pasta with steamed broccoli, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan cheese
- Substitute cooked spaghetti squash in any pasta dish for a nutrient-dense, high-fiber dinner
This list is just the tip of the iceberg (I’m having to restrain myself here to keep from making a horrible pun about iceberg lettuce — sorry, that was awful), and there are tons of options for playing around with these ingredients and creating meals you love.
Do you have an abiding love of Mexican food? Google black bean recipes and see what you come up with. If you love Middle Eastern dishes, do the same with chickpeas; if you’re a big fan of Italian food, explore the wide world of lentil recipes.
As you can see, high-fiber dishes don’t have to fall into the epic fail category — they can be delicious enough that both your body and your taste buds will thank you!