Fiber is magical. It helps slow digestion and absorption to keep you fuller longer and delay the return of hunger, provides a slower, steadier rise in blood sugar and a lower insulin response, and keeps you "regular” by helping your digestive system stay in tip top shape. And if that’s not enough it’s also key to weight control. Research has shown that for every gram of fiber we eat, we eliminate about seven calories. That means if you eat 30 grams a day you’ll essentially "cancel out" 210 calories, a savings that could result in a 20 lb weight loss in one year's time. Another study in Brazilian dieters found that over a 6 month period, each additional gram of fiber resulted in an extra quarter pound of weight loss. So how do you boost your intake without feeling like you're choking down cardboard? Check out these five tricks:
Bake With Bean Flour
The next time you whip up a batch of baked goods or coat chicken breasts before tossing in the oven, consider giving bean-based flours a try. A quarter cup of fava or white bean flour packs a whopping 8 grams of fiber compared to 4 in the whole wheat pastry variety. They’re heartier in texture, which may not work for every recipe, but even a partial replacement is a great way to bolster your intake.
Toss Oats Into a Smoothie
For some of the smoothie recipes in my new book I wanted to fit an entire meal in a glass, including the whole grain, so I added ¼ of dry rolled oats to the mix. In addition to the fiber boost they add a nutty layer of flavor as well as a thicker, grainy texture that blends perfectly with ingredients like frozen pitted cherries, organic skim or soy milk, almond butter and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves.
Swirl Some Chia Seeds to Your Salad Dressing
These small oval seeds pack more heart and brain saving omega-3 fatty acids than flax seeds and just one tablespoon provides 5 g of fiber, about twice as much as golden flaxseed. Just be prepared for gel-ish texture since these gems soak up about 12 times their weight in fluid.
Fold Shredded Veggies Into Any Dish
Lately my grater is one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. I add shredded zucchini, carrots and cabbage to just about everything, including natural nut butter. And replacing half of my usual starch portion (whole grain pasta, brown rice, potatoes) with chopped veggies is my trick for cutting back on carbs without sacrificing volume. If you’re a meat eater try replacing some or all of the ground beef or turkey in dishes like tacos with minced mushrooms. A recent Johns Hopkins study found that this very swap slashed calories by 400 and fat by 30 grams without affecting fullness or satiety.
Use Pureed Fruit as “Frosting”
Using a food processor puree soft, ripe high fiber fruits, like dates, peaches, pears, plums, mango, kiwi, papaya, figs, or strawberry/banana combo, and use in place of frosting on mini cupcakes or as a spread instead of sweetened jam.
Just one caveat: as you boost your fiber intake be sure to drink plenty of H2O – it’s needed to help move undigested fiber through your system, so not enough can lead to bloating or a tummy ache!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.