How to Boost Your Fiber Intake

Break out of that brown rice rut — and reap more health benefits — with these interesting whole grains

By Sharon Liao

Tired of hearing about the importance of getting more fiber in your diet? We get it. Whole-wheat bread and brown rice aren’t always the most exciting picks, and they can sometimes taste ho-hum.

But most of us could use a little nudge towards boosting our fiber intake. Less than 10 percent of adults in the US meet the daily requirement for fiber. For women, that’s 28 grams between ages 19 to 30; 25 grams for those ages 31 to 50; and 22 grams over age 50. For men, it’s 34 grams between ages 19 to 30; 31 grams for those ages 31 to 50; and 28 grams over age 50.

Making the most of the whole grains you eat can go a long way toward closing the fiber gap. Plus, they serve up other key nutrients for your health, says Rachele Dependahl, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. There are interesting, delicious, and easy-to-prepare grains that you may not have tried yet.

Whole-Grain Health Perks

People tend to eat more refined grains, such as white bread and the white flour in baked goods, than products made from whole grains. But the process that makes these products soft and fluffy strips away the grain’s nutrient-rich layers, the bran and germ. “Much of the fiber, iron, and B vitamins are lost,” says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.

Getting enough of the whole stuff is important for healthy aging. Although whole grains won’t turn back the clock, they can improve your well-being and fend off chronic diseases as you grow older. Eating more of them may even lengthen your life.

A review of 45 studies published in 2016 in the journal BMJ concluded that a diet high in whole grains reduced the risk of early death by up to 17 percent, likely due to their protective effect against cancer, diabetes, and other conditions. Here’s the whole picture of the benefits of whole grains.

• A boon for weight control: “Whole grains are higher in fiber than refined grains, so they take longer to digest and help you feel full longer,” says Viola Holmes, RD, associate director of nutrition science and health care for the American Diabetes Association. Research also suggests that they speed metabolism and take more calories to digest than refined ones, which may help with weight loss.

Type 2 diabetes protection: Harvard scientists found that people who ate about two servings of whole grains daily had a 29 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those who consumed less than one serving. (A serving is a half-cup of cooked grains, a slice of whole-grain bread, or a cup of ready-to-eat whole-grain cereal.) Because fiber takes longer to break down, whole grains do not spike blood sugar as much as other carbs, Holmes says. While it’s a good move to switch from white bread, cereal, and pasta to wholegrain versions, eating grains in their intact (whole-kernel) form can be even better for your health. A 2020 study in the journal Diabetes Care found that eating intact grains led to better glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes compared with eating more processed whole-grain foods.

• Help for your heart: A 2021 study from Tufts University found that adults middle-aged and older who averaged three or more servings of whole grains daily over the average 18-year study period had smaller increases in markers of heart problems — waist size, blood pressure, and blood sugar —Compared with those who had less than half a serving. According to a research review published in 2016 in The BMJ, upping your whole-grain intake by three servings a day may lower the risk of heart disease by more than 20 percent. Whole grains also provide iron, and not getting enough of this mineral is linked to heart disease and heart failure.

• Better gut health: Fiber adds bulk to your stool and softens it, which fends off constipation. “It also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut,” Patton says. She adds that having more “good” bacteria may protect against digestive problems and strengthen your immune system.

• Reduced cancer risk: Eating about three servings of whole grains a day lowers the odds of developing colorectal cancer by 17 percent, according to a report from the American Institute for Cancer Research. This may be because fiber speeds up the transit time through the GI tract, lessening exposure to cancer-causing compounds. The nutrients and antioxidants in whole grains may also protect against the damage and cellular changes that may lead to cancer. An analysis of research published in the journal Nutrients in 2020 showed that eating whole grains regularly protects against stomach, pancreatic, and esophageal cancer and other forms of the disease.

5 Fiber Superstars

You can add more variety to your meals — and boost your fiber and other important nutrients intake — with these less-common whole grains. Each offers its own unique flavor, texture, and nutrition profile.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the May 2022 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.

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