What if you could eat something that controls your appetite and regulates blood sugar while helping you feel full for longer and cutting back on food cravings? It sounds like a magic weight-loss pill, but it's not.
That secret food? Fiber. Although fiber is a carbohydrate, since it doesn't convert to glucose, it doesn't raise your blood sugar like other carbs typically do. In fact, fiber actually slows the entry of glucose into the bloodstream. This, in turn, reduces the blood sugar spikes that cause insulin production and encourage the body to produce and store body fat.
But few people are getting enough fiber. Women should eat about 25 grams a day and men at least 35 to 40, but the average person consumes just 15 grams a day. Here are seven sneaky ways to get the fiber you need. (If you shoot for eight grams to 10 grams of fiber with each meal, you'll be well on your way to meeting your quota.)
1. Start Your Day Right
Begin with breakfast. Add half a cup of cooked spinach and two cups of mushrooms, which cook down to half a cup, to your eggs and you'll have a fiber-bonanza breakfast. Or add a half-cup of black beans and whip up huevos rancheros or a breakfast burrito wrapped in a low-carb tortilla.
2. Snack Smart
Chow on sliced red bell peppers with hummus as a snack, wrap ham and cheese in a romaine lettuce leaf or enjoy half an avocado, which has about five grams of fiber. Fiber- and protein-rich edamame also makes a great snack. Artichokes have more fiber than any vegetable. Roast or steam them and dunk the leaves in butter or a dip of lemon, dill and mayonnaise.
3. Pile On the Veggies
Pile sliced, grilled chicken onto a salad packed with veggies for lunch. Try steamed broccoli and sauteed mushrooms with chicken, steak, pork or salmon for dinner.
4. Learn to Love Legumes
Black beans, lentils and split peas are all packed with fiber. They make a great fiber-rich base for soups and are a healthy addition to salads. But they are higher in carbohydrates, so if you're on a low-carb diet, watch your carb count and portion size.
5. Go for Whole Grains
Whole-grain breads and tortillas can be a great source of fiber; look for those with at least four grams of fiber per serving. Look for 100 percent whole-grain bread (the term "multigrain" doesn't ensure it is all whole grain; check the ingredient list). Spread your toast with two tablespoons of a natural almond or peanut butter for another 1.9 grams of fiber. Make fajitas with low-carb tortillas, and fill a low-carb wrap with veggies and slices of grilled chicken or steak. Swap out white rice for hearty brown rice, which has 3.5 grams of fiber in one cup.
6. Mix It Into Everything
To significantly boost the fiber in your cereal bowl or oatmeal (which has a heart-healthy blend of soluble and insoluble fiber), add a quarter-cup of toasted wheat germ, a tablespoon of ground flaxseed or two tablespoons of slivered almonds or other nuts. All of these are also great sprinkled over Greek, plain, whole-milk or reduced-carb yogurt. You can also top salads with slivered almonds or sprinkle flaxseed meal or chia seeds in your next protein smoothie.
7. Fill Up With Fruit
Skip the fruit juices and eat the fruit itself and you'll get about three grams of fiber. Berries are the way to go (a half-cup of raspberries adds four grams of fiber, blackberries add 3.8 grams, blueberries or strawberries add 1.7 grams and kiwis supply 2.7 grams per fruit). Always eat your fruit with protein and/or a fat like nuts or cheese to slow any negative impact of the natural sugars on blood sugar levels.
Colette Heimowitz, M.Sc., works with medical professionals, health influencers and consumers to educate them about the Atkins sustainable lifestyle. Colette brings a wealth of nutritional knowledge and experience as the vice president of Nutrition and Education at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. She has more than 20 years of experience as a nutritionist.