You may not think much about fiber — until you find yourself dealing with an, er, irregular situation.
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Indeed, dietary fiber is a magic ingredient that keeps you regular. But thwarting constipation is not its only job. Fiber helps lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. It also helps reduce the risk of other diseases like colorectal cancer. Plus, it keeps your blood sugar levels from spiking and makes you feel full longer, which can help you lose weight.
“Fiber does lots of cool stuff in the body,” says registered dietitian Anna Taylor, RD.
Here’s where to get it — and why these foods are best for a high-fiber diet.
High-fiber foods you should be eating
Fiber comes from plants, so don’t bother looking for it in your chicken dinner. But the plant kingdom has a lot to offer, and the best sources of dietary fiber might surprise you.
Taylor suggests aiming for 25 grams (g) to 35 grams of fiber a day. Here are her top 11 foods to work into your diet right now.
1. Whole-wheat pasta
Carbs get a bad rap, but whole grains are a great source of fiber and are also rich in healthy phytonutrients (believed to help prevent various diseases), Taylor says. Skip the white pasta (which has been stripped of all the good stuff), and go for whole-wheat instead.
Amount of fiber: 1 cup cooked = 7g fiber
“Barley is a delicious grain that’s often overlooked,” Taylor says. Try tossing it in soups or mix up a grain bowl with your favorite meat and veggies.
Amount of fiber: 1 cup cooked = 6g fiber
“Legumes are star players. They’re some of the best sources of protein and fiber, they help keep you full, and they have amazing nutrient composition,” Taylor says. Chickpeas are a fiber-full favorite from the legume list. Add them to soups or salads, snack on chickpea hummus or roast them whole for a crunchy, shelf-stable snack.
Amount of fiber: 1/2 cup cooked = 6g fiber
Edamame, or immature soybeans, have a mild flavor and pleasing texture. They’re also one of the few plant sources that contain all the amino acids your body needs, so they’re a great choice for vegans and vegetarians. You can find them in the frozen food section, still in the pod or already shelled. Add edamame to salads and stir-fries, Taylor suggests. (Edamame is often a big hit for kids to snack on, too.)
Amount of fiber: 1/2 cup boiled and shelled = 4g fiber
5. Lentils and split peas
These two legumes have similar nutrition profiles and are used in similar ways. “Lentils and split peas are nutritional powerhouses,” says Taylor. They cook quickly and are great in soups. Try swapping lentils for some of the meat in your chili to boost the plant-powered goodness.
Amount of fiber:
Lentils, 1/2 cup cooked = 8g fiber
Split peas, 1/2 cup boiled = 8g fiber
“All berries are good for you, but blackberries and raspberries have the most fiber,” Taylor explains. They’re also delicious. Fresh berries can be expensive, but frozen are often more economical. If you don’t love the mushy texture of thawed berries, blend them into a smoothie or stir them into your oatmeal. “You can also cook them down and put them on waffles in place of syrup,” she says.
Amount of fiber: 1 cup = 8g fiber
Amount of fiber: 1 medium pear = 6g fiber
8. Artichokes hearts
Artichoke hearts are packed with fiber. Add them to salads or pile them on pizza. If dealing with these spiky veggies is too daunting, try the canned kind. (But if you’re eating canned, keep an eye on sodium levels so you don’t go overboard.)
Amount of fiber: 1/2 cup cooked = 7g fiber
9. Brussels sprouts
If you’ve been avoiding Brussels sprouts since you were a kid, they’re worth a second look. “Brussels sprouts are awesome,” Taylor says. They’re delicious roasted or sautéed. (Plus, they’re cute.)
Amount of fiber: 1 cup cooked = 5g fiber
10. Chia seeds
A spoonful of chia seeds can go a long way. “They’re incredibly rich in fiber, contain omega-3 fatty acids and have a nice protein punch, too,” Taylor says. “You can throw them in oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, cereal, salads and smoothies.”
Many people love the jelly-like texture. If you aren’t one of them, try mixing them into a smoothie or yogurt right before you eat it, so they don’t have as much time to absorb water and plump up.
Amount of fiber: 2 tablespoons = 10g fiber
11. Haas avocados
Haas avocados are a great source of healthy fats. And unlike most fiber-rich foods, you can use them as a condiment, Taylor says. “You can spread avocado on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise or put it on your toast if you’re a true Millennial.” Guacamole (with whole-grain crackers or paired with raw veggies) is another delicious way to get your daily fiber.
Amount of fiber: 1/2 avocado = 5g fiber
If you’re not ready to do a major overhaul, there are plenty of high-fiber snacks you can grab between meals, including:
- Trail mix.
- Granola bars.
- Sweet potato fries.
- Kale chips.
Eating more fiber? Read this first!
Before you jump on the fiber bandwagon, a word of caution: “Add fiber to your diet slowly,” Taylor advises. If you aren’t used to a lot of fiber, eating too much can cause bloating and cramping. Increase high-fiber foods gradually over a few weeks to avoid that inflated feeling.
Another important tip: “When adding fiber to your diet, be sure to drink enough water,” she says. Fiber pulls in water. That’s a good thing, but if you aren’t drinking enough, it can make constipation worse. To keep things moving, drink at least 2 liters of fluids each day.
“If you increase your fiber slowly and steadily, and drink lots of fluid, your body will adjust,” Taylor says. And you’ll be glad it did.