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8 Ways to Get More Fiber Into Your Diet

Fiber can help digestion, lower cholesterol and may help you live longer

spinner image close up of a high-fiber bowl of chia pudding topped with slices of kiwi and a sprig of mint on a kitchen table with a fiber-rich kiwi in the background
Valeriu Dragomir / Getty Images

If you are like most Americans, you probably don’t get enough fiber in your diet. A mere 7 percent of Americans eat enough fiber.

“There’s really an epidemic of fiber deficiency,” says Michael Greger, the physician behind and author of the forthcoming book How Not to Age.

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Fiber is the part of plant foods your body can’t digest. And even though your body can’t absorb it, it plays a critical role in your health.

This is especially true for people over age 50. Most people know that older adults are more prone to constipation, which can be prevented by eating more fiber. But the stomachs of older adults also produce less acid, and the intestines may start to have a harder time moving food through, which can affect nutrient absorption, says Michelle Kwan, a research assistant at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and coauthor of a 2021 paper “Healthy Diet for Healthy Aging” in the journal Nutrients.  “Consuming an adequate amount of fiber can help compensate for these changes,” she says.

But fiber does so much more than support healthy digestion.

It can help you live longer. Really. A 2015 analysis in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people eating high-fiber diets had a significantly lower risk of death — from all causes.

It also can help you age better. Regularly eating a high-fiber diet has been linked to successful aging — defined as a lack of memory problems, disability, depression and chronic diseases, according to a 10-year study of more than 1,600 participants published in the Journal of Gerontology in 2016. It’s even associated with less damage to white matter in the brain, which can affect memory and balance as you age.

Lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation, as well as lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, stroke and possibly colorectal cancer are all also linked with a high-fiber diet.

There’s one more benefit: It can help manage weight. In fact, a lack of fiber may be one of the biggest hurdles to losing weight, according to The Whole Body Reset by AARP editor Stephen Perrine. That’s because fiber can block calorie absorption and help you feel full longer.

The average amount of fiber older adults eat is just 16.1 grams, Kwan says. Here’s how much should you be eating:

  • Men over age 50: 30 grams/day
  • Women over age 50: 21 grams/day

Part of the challenge is that appetites tend to decrease with age. But an even bigger cause is that the American diet is heavy on meat and dairy, which have no fiber, and refined flours, which have minimal fiber.

Fiber comes exclusively from plants. There are two types, and many foods contain both.

  • Soluble fiber becomes gel-like in water. It’s helpful for managing cholesterol, blood sugar and weight. Oats, peas, beans, apples and citrus are all good sources of soluble fiber.
  • Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. Instead, it draws in water. This kind of fiber is especially helpful for preventing constipation because it adds bulk. Think whole wheat, nuts, beans (again!), cauliflower and green beans.

There are plenty of low-effort ways to add fiber to your diet that are tastier than chomping on celery sticks and more effective than pounding powdered drink supplements, which often don’t give you the same benefits as fiber from whole foods. Here are eight of them.

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1. Shower your food with seeds

Try adding chia seeds or ground flaxseeds to your morning yogurt, oatmeal or smoothie. You can also mix them whole into baked goods, coatings for meat and fish, and with breadcrumbs in meatloaf and casseroles. One tablespoon of chia seeds has 4 grams of fiber, and a tablespoon of flaxseed has 3 grams. Sunflower seeds (3 grams per ¼ cup) are also great. Eat them straight, toss them on a salad, mix them into granola, stir them into yogurt or sprinkle them on top of breads and muffins. 

spinner image close up of chopsticks on top of a bowl of high-fiber soba noodles with sesame, coriander and soy sauce
Soba noodles are higher in protein and lower in calories than pasta.
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2. Swap your pasta

You’ve got regular pasta (3 grams of fiber per 2 oz serving), whole grain pasta (7 grams per serving) and chickpea pasta, which has about 8 grams per serving. Bonus: Chickpea pasta is also packed with protein, so even if you’re skipping the meatballs, you’re not missing out. With a hearty sauce, you won’t notice it’s any different than your standard pasta. There are also some more unusual ones available, such as lentil, edamame and even black bean pastas. And don’t forget Japanese soba noodles and other pastas made from buckwheat. 

3. Take a (bean) dip

Seven-layer dip, cowboy caviar and garlic-rosemary-cannellini bean dip are all easy ways to sneak in some fiber. Pair them with lentil chips, seedy crackers or carrot sticks for an extra dose of fiber and crunch.  

spinner image close up of cooked high-fiber quinoa in a cast iron skillet on a rustic wooden table beside broccoli florets and an iron spoon
Quinoa is easy to cook and packed with heart-healthy vitamins and minerals.
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4. Bulk up your salads

Greens like kale, green cabbage and brussels sprouts make a solid, fiber-filled base for your salad, but you can really take it to the next level by tossing in a quarter cup of some quinoa (5 grams of fiber), bulgur wheat (5 grams) or pearl barley (6 grams) to add fiber and make your salads more filling. 

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5. Don’t skip dessert

Go for a little something sweet at the end of a meal, as long as that dessert is dark chocolate. An ounce of dark chocolate, which has less sugar and fat than milk chocolate (the darker, the better), packs about 4 grams of fiber. Plus it’s full of heart-healthy flavonols, a type of antioxidant, and minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus. Chocolate also has a lot of calories, so don’t overdo it if you are trying to watch your weight.

6. Splurge on fancy avocado toast

Did you know that one avocado satisfies as much as a third of your daily fiber requirement? Try adding a few slices to sandwiches and salads, or alongside eggs at breakfast. You can even swap out butter for avocado in baked goods. Bonus: You’ll also be getting a dose of healthy fat and a bunch of vitamins and minerals. 

spinner image close up of high-fiber passion fruits sliced in half on a wooden background
Passion fruit has plenty of vitamin C to help support the immune system.
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7. Tour the tropics (fruit-wise)

Two small kiwis have about 4 grams of fiber (and double your daily vitamin C requirement). A cup of chopped dragon fruit has almost 6 grams of fiber. And a cup of chopped guava has almost 9 grams. The queen of them all, at least cup-for-cup, is passion fruit: One cup packs a whopping 24.5 grams of fiber. To be fair though, a single passion fruit, which is rather small, has about 2 grams. 

8. Explore global cuisines

Branch out and cook a new recipe or dine at a new restaurant. Some to try:

  • Ethiopian: Try the Ethiopian staple of misir wat with injera. It’s a saucy red lentil dish with berbere and nigella spices (found in any Ethiopian market). Use the injera — a tangy, spongy flatbread made from fiber-packed teff flour — as a utensil.
  • Indian: South Asian cuisine also excels at lentils, as well as dried chickpeas and beans, collectively known as dal.
  • Italian: Toss some whole-wheat or chickpea pasta with a twist on pesto. The green sauce is traditionally made with basil, garlic and pine nuts. Instead, swap fava bean or pea pesto for basil, or pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts to increase the fiber.
  • Puerto Rico: Stewed beans, called habichuelas guisadas, is a comforting and common companion to rice in Puerto Rico. Pink beans, which are super-high in fiber, are traditional, but the easily adaptable recipe works well with red, pinto or black beans too. Plus, the dish typically has high-fiber pumpkin, potato and carrots too.

If you’re inspired to start eating more fiber, you’ll want to ramp it up over the course of several weeks. Too much too fast can cause gas and bloating. And for those with certain health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis and Crohn’s disease, be sure to check with your doctor first, as low-fiber diets are often temporarily preferred for minimizing symptoms.

For more suggestions of high fiber foods, check out the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines’ rankings of the highest fiber foods. If you get stuck, just remember: whole grains, legumes, berries and seeds. You can’t go wrong.

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