High-Fiber Diet, High Benefits
If you're looking to eat a healthier diet—and, by the way, potentially reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers—adding fiber can help.
In fact, most adults in the United States eat only 15 grams of fiber a day or less—well under the 21 to 38 grams a day recommended for normal adults. And the Institute of Medicine recommends taking in 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you need.
2 types of fiber
First, some basics. Fiber comes from plants and there are 2 kinds: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber blocks cholesterol and fats from being absorbed through the walls of the intestines into the bloodstream. Research shows that adding just 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber to your diet every day (about equal to an apple and an orange) can lower cholesterol by as much as 5%.
Then there's insoluble fiber (roughage), which helps the digestive tract work the way it's supposed to.
You should aim for a balance of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Whole-grain foods, fruits (with the skins), vegetables, and legumes (such as dried beans and peas) typically have good levels of both.
One "fiberlicious" source: beans
You can serve them in lots of waysit's a great place to start getting the fiber you need. Just one-half cup of kidney or pinto beans has nearly 7 grams of total fiber and 2 grams of soluble fiberplus they're good sources of vitamins, minerals, and protein. Generally, experts suggest eating beans several times a week. Try replacing red meat with beans.
Canned or fresh? Your call. But there's no need to soak beans overnight and boil them for hours. Canned beans are just as nutritious as fresh or dried beans. Buy cans marked "low sodium" and rinse the beans to help get rid of some of the extra salt. (Frozen beans are good, too.)
Add to salads. You can open a can of cooked garbanzo, kidney, or black beans, rinse, and mix with your leafy greens.
Add to whatever's simmering. In stews or soups, lentils, lima beans, or fava beans make tasty and healthy additions.
Spread the word. Pureed beans can be used to create dips and spreads.
One last note...
Many people worry about getting gassy from beans. Adding a lot of fiber to your diet at once also may cause cramps and bloating. Consider doing it gradually, so your digestive system can adjust. To help reduce the gas-inducing quality of beans, change the water several times during soaking and cooking. And simmer beans slowly until tender, to make them easier to digest.
Adding beans means adding fiber—and that can mean health benefits your body will thank you for.