Forget fad diets, forget tedious calorie counting and instead try eating more fiber to help you lose weight, balance blood sugars, protect your heart and get healthier in every way this year.
Instead of unrealistic resolutions this year, that leave us burned-out two weeks in, let’s focus on something that can actually make a difference—no matter what your health goals are—and is easy to do. That “something” is eating more fiber. No, it doesn’t include cutting out carbs, eating only low-fat or drinking celery juice—simply eating more fiber will do the trick.
Fiber is the indigestible component of plant-based foods, like fruits and veggies, legumes, whole grains and certain seeds, like chia seeds. According to (lots of) research, eating more fiber is one of the best things you can do for your health. Plus, isn’t it easier to focus on just this one thing, rather than memorizing a long list of foods you can and cannot eat? Or only allowing yourself to eat within a certain time range, totally negating your hunger cues? The list goes on but, instead, let me tell you why fiber is so great.
Benefits of Eating More Fiber
Boosts gut health
For starters, fiber helps keep your digestive system moving along, which means a more normal bathroom routine and less bloating. And, we’re learning more and more about how having a healthy gut can have a positive impact on your entire body—like your heart and brain.
Protects the heart and balances blood sugars
Fiber also helps to keep your blood sugars balanced, which is key is you have diabetes—but even if you don’t, stable blood sugars mean stable energy levels. And when it comes to heart health, there’s a reason why the American Heart Association recommends that we get around 25 grams of fiber per day. Fiber works to decrease the levels of less-than-helpful LDL cholesterol, while boosting our helpful HDL cholesterol, which can help keep our blood pressure in a healthy range, among other benefits.
Makes losing weight—and keeping it off—easier
And lastly, if weight loss is one of your goals, fiber is the No. 1 food you should be eating more of to lose weight the healthy way (1 to 2 pounds per week) and keep it off in the long run. We don’t digest fiber, so what you take in will pass through—and out—of your digestive system. And it binds with some calories in food, so you actually absorb less calories overall. Also, since we don’t digest it, and because it moves slowly through our system, a fiber-rich meal will keep us feeling fuller for longer—no running back to the fridge an hour after you eat. Lastly, by focusing on filling up with fiber-rich foods, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes and seeds, you’ll naturally eat fewer less-healthy foods.
Here’s How to Easily Eat More Fiber
When it comes making health changes, they need to be easy enough that you can stick with them for the long run, and you need to enjoy what you’re eating. Otherwise, what’s the point? Simply focusing on more fiber checks both those boxes.
Start with meals you already love
Look at what you eat in a day and see where you can add a little more fiber here and there, or make an ingredient swap—white to brown rice, white pasta to whole-wheat—for an instant boost.
Soup is a favorite for many, especially in the colder winter months. Thankfully, lots of delicious soups already have plenty of fiber-rich ingredients. Take the vegetable soup pictured above, for instance—loaded with seven different veggies, plus beans, one serving alone delivers 8 grams of fiber, which is close to one-third of what you need in a day. Serve that with a piece of whole-wheat baguette topped with hummus and you’ll up your fiber even more.
Are you a fan of oatmeal in the morning? Stir in some chia seeds—just 2 tablespoons add an extra 7 grams of fiber.
Opt for ready-to-use items to cut down on prep time
From the produce section, think peeled and cubed butternut squash and other pre-prepped veggies (the chopped onion, carrot and celery combination is the perfect starter for a tasty soup or casserole), pre-washed greens, baby carrots, peeled and cored pineapple and fruit salad. All of these items take the prep work out of the way, so all that’s left to do is eat!
This extends to other sections of the grocery store as well. Who has time to spend 40 minutes waiting for brown rice to cook every night? Or to soak dried beans the night before using them? That’s where items like packages of precooked whole grains and lentils and canned beans come in handy when you need some fiber, quick.
The freezer section is also your friend. Frozen fruit makes morning smoothies a breeze, frozen veggies can be combined with your brown rice for a quick stir-fry, and you can also find things like bean-based veggie burgers, falafel and whole-wheat pizza dough.
Load up at snack time
Whole-wheat crackers with cheese, popcorn, whole-wheat toast topped with nut butter, sliced apples, granola bars, trail mix, a bowl of cereal, raspberries, hummus—the list of high-fiber snack options really is endless. Plus, many of these items are ready to eat, or take just a few minutes to prep, then snack is served.
The Bottom Line
Think back on past resolutions or anytime you tried to make a health change—did it work out? When you focus on eating more fiber, you can realistically hit your health goals, without giving up your favorite foods or spending hours counting calories. And with these helpful tips and recipes, it can be both easy and delicious.
This article originally appeared on Eating Well by Victoria Seaver, M.S., RD on January 13th, 2021.