Fruits and vegetables are great sources of fiber, but most Americans do not include enough in their diets. Naturopathic physician Heather Manley, creator of the children's series, Human Body Detectives, encourages families to start "coloring their plates with fruits and vegetables."
Aim for two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables each day, and "stick to fruits and vegetables in their true form, such as an entire apple with the skin instead of apple juice," advises Carol Frazey, author of The Fit School Newsletter.
"The more veggies the better," agrees naturopathic physician Wendy Wells. "Don't be afraid to eat an entire large bowl of steamed broccoli!" But keep in mind that one serving is not very big, says registered dietician and nutrition consultant Rosanne Rust. "A large banana can count as two servings. A dinner salad is one serving, but an entree salad may be three."
When you have the munchies for something crunchy, don't grab greasy potato chips. Instead, snack on a whole grain cereal with at least three grams of fiber, recommends Frazey.
Manley suggests adding seeds or nuts to yogurt, smoothies, morning cereals and salads to up your fiber intake. "These small things make a profound impact on your health."
If your between-meals snack has to be sweet to satisfy, opt for an apple instead of a candy bar, says Rust. And keep dried fruit like apricots and figs on hand, too. Fiber-filled snacks fill you up and hold you over until mealtime.
Prepare at least one meal each week using beans or legumes, encourages Frazey. Beans are high in fiber and low in cost. Buy 'em dried or in a can -- either way, you can't go wrong. There are so many ways to enjoy these little gems.
Make a commitment to incorporate one of the following into your meal calendar each week:
Instead of rich, processed desserts, have some applesauce or add a few sliced peaches to a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Choosing berries -- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, acai berries -- is a great way to up the fiber while satisfying your after-dinner sweet tooth.
Add uncooked oatmeal, cornmeal or wheat germ to casseroles, meatloaf or burgers, says Frazey. Rust suggests sprinkling raisins or dried cranberries on salads. Look for ways to add high-fiber foods when cooking -- your family will never know how healthy they're eating!
Look for foods that have around 10 percent of the "percent daily value" of dietary fiber. And when buying whole grain products, make sure the first ingredient is "whole grain." Generally, the fewer ingredients a food item has, the better it is for you. Avoid processed foods whenever possible: Food processing can remove valuable fiber.
Introduce the extra fiber gradually to avoid bloating and gas pains. And drink plenty of water -- it helps the fiber move through your system so it can do its job.
Make dessert in a slowcooker! These coconut crunch banana bars are delicious, easy to make, high in fiber and heart healthy.
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