For many, the New Year provides a reason to examine the changes we would like to make for a healthier life. This January will be no different for the many Americans who will think about improving their diet. Focusing on fiber intake is one important and easy modification to consider.
Research has shown that fiber has a wide range of health benefits, but Americans struggle with getting their daily dose. The FDA recommends consuming 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day, but less than 3 percent of Americans actually do so.
"When it's New Year's resolution time, most people focus on foods they should avoid to make their diets more healthful," says registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, brand ambassador for Sunsweet Growers Inc., the world's largest handler of dried fruits. "I love talking to people about adding fiber to the diet because it flips the typical healthy eating resolution on its head. Instead of focusing on what you can't eat, it's all about selecting those better-for-you foods like prunes and prune juice to add into the diet. It's a more positive way of looking at health."
People typically associate fiber with digestive health, and fiber does play a critical role in regulating digestion. In addition to digestive health, the benefits of fiber include:
Helping to keep you feeling fuller longer, which can aid in weight management
Lowering cholesterol, specifically with soluble fiber found in foods like apples, oats and beans
Reducing the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes
According to Blatner, adding fiber into the diet can be easy and flavorful with just a little planning. Ideally, she recommends choosing foods with natural fiber rather than overly processed foods with added fiber. Natural fiber sources give you the added bonus of vitamins, minerals and healthy phytochemicals. Here are Blatner's five quick tips to increase natural fiber intake this New Year:
"Veggify." Add vegetables to your omelets, sandwiches, pizza and pasta. Add veggies dipped in lowfat dressing at lunch and start dinner with a little garden salad with chopped prunes for extra flavor.
Bean boost. Add beans and lentils to up your fiber intake. Add black beans to tacos, garbanzos to salads, kidney beans to stir fries, white beans to pasta dishes and lentils to ground beef before making burger patties.
Fruity snack time. On-the-go portable fruits such as apples, pears and oranges are good between-meal choices. Also Sunsweet Ones are individually wrapped prunes, which make it easy to toss into your purse, car or desk drawer as an easy anytime snack. Something Blatner loves is a DIY trail mix with Sunsweet's Plum Amazins diced dried plums.
Grain swap. Whole grain toast instead of white toast for breakfast, brown rice stir fry for lunch, whole grain crackers for a snack and whole grain pasta for dinner can go a long way in helping you to achieve the daily fiber recommendation.
Drink up. Fiber is not only for eating. You can also drink it. Sunsweet's PlumSmart Light and Amazing Prune Light both provide a good source of fiber with fewer calories and sugar than regular juice.