Adding high-fiber vegetables to your meals is one of the easiest, tastiest and most nutritious ways to get more fiber in your diet. And that’s something most of us should probably be paying more attention to.
Adults should get between 25 and 38 grams of fiber every day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But many people fall pretty far short of that and end up closer to 10 to 15 grams a day, experts tell TODAY.com. That may leave you feeling backed up and bloated. You might notice yourself feeling hungry soon after your meals, too.
So how can you get more fiber? High-fiber vegetables are a great place to start. Not only are there a lot of delicious, versatile veggies to choose from, but they often come packed with other nutrients as well, such as vitamin C and folate. That’s why eating with fiber and gut health in mind can also help you reach other health goals.
Why is fiber so important?
Fiber is the “street sweeper of your system,” as Grace Derocha, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, puts it, helping clear out excess waste from your body. That maintains your ability to absorb nutrients from food and prevents constipation and bloating, Derocha tells TODAY.com.
Soluble fiber, which swells in water, slows down the movement of meals through your intestines. This helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, TODAY.com explained previously. Insoluble fiber performs the opposite job, meaning it pushes stool through your bowels more quickly. It also adds bulk to your stool and increases the feeling of fullness after a meal, which can aid in weight loss.
It’s important to get both types of fiber in your meals throughout the day, which can be a challenge. But incorporating more plant foods, particularly vegetables, into your diet is an easy way to get both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Because fiber is found in plants, filling your plate with plant foods — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes — is “a sure-fire way to up your fiber intake,” Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., assistant professor at Saint Louis University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells TODAY.com
In particular, vegetables are rich in insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to your stool and speeds up intestinal transit time, Linsenmeyer says. “Because of these properties, the fiber found in vegetables can be especially helpful to prevent or treat constipation,” she adds.
High-fiber vegetables to add to your meals
While all plants contain fiber, a few get “MVP status due to higher fiber content,” Linsenmeyer says.
Some of those high-fiber all-star veggies include:
A medium artichoke contains 7 grams of fiber, Linsenmeyer says. Cooking with artichokes can be a little intimidating because of the tough exterior leaves. But they’re surprisingly versatile and can be grilled, stuffed, steamed or braised.
Hearty greens like kale, collard greens, turnip greens and spinach come with a lot of fiber, Derocha says. Use these as the base of a veggie-loaded salad, braised as a side dish with dinner or mixed into a morning quiche.
A chopped cup of these brightly colored veggies contains nearly 4 grams of fiber, according to the USDA. Plus, they also have some natural fruit sugar for an energy boost. Raw carrot sticks or baby carrots make a great, nutritious snack (especially paired with some hummus or peanut butter), or try roasting them with a honey and balsamic glaze.
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, are a great option if you’re looking to add more fiber to your diet. Try adding roasted broccoli to meals with other high-fiber foods, like cauliflower, chickpeas or Brussels sprouts. And, yes, frozen broccoli works, too!
These root vegetables bring almost 4 grams of fiber per cup, per the USDA, making them a nutritious and colorful addition to any salad or side dish. They also contain a good amount of folate, also called vitamin B9, which is helpful for development and heart health.
Another cruciferous high-fiber vegetable, cauliflower is also high in vitamin C and an exceptionally versatile ingredient. Roasted cauliflower makes a great side (especially when topped with a flavorful sauce) or addition to salads. Or it can be subbed in for starchier potatoes or rice in many recipes.
Both sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are nutritious root veggies, each coming with 3 to 4 grams of fiber per serving (with the skin). There are countless ways to use potatoes in your meals, including roasting them on a sheet pan, baking them whole or adding them to a casserole.
Because they’re on the starchier side, you may want to pair sweet potatoes and potatoes with foods that contain more satisfying protein and healthy fats, like chicken, salmon or tofu.
Roasted Brussels sprouts are a classic holiday side dish. And these tiny veggies pack a whopping 3 grams of fiber per half-cup serving, Linsenmeyer says. Switch things up by chopping the lightly cooked sprouts into a salad or cook them on a sheet pan alongside salmon and another fiber-rich veggie: asparagus.
Tomatoes might be a less obvious high-fiber vegetable, but Derocha has good reason to include it on her list. With about 1.5 grams of fiber per medium-sized tomato, per the USDA, it’s easy to add these as a fiber boost to any sandwich, pasta dish or salad.
Vegetables rich in prebiotic fiber
In addition to all the other healthful benefits of fiber, some specific fiber-rich vegetables also act as prebiotics, Linsenmeyer says, meaning they promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
“We know how important the gut microbiome is to our overall gut health and the health of basically every body system,” she says. “You can think of prebiotic fibers as healthy food for the bacteria (that make up your gut microbiome) to help them thrive and proliferate.”
These are fibers, often soluble fibers, that don’t get chemically digested in the colon, she explains, and are instead fermented by the good bacteria there.
Some vegetables that contain prebiotic fiber include:
High-fiber vegetables are a good place to start getting more fiber in your meals, but they are by no means the end of the road. Combine these veggies with a variety of whole grains, fruit, beans and legumes to get even more healthful fiber in every bite.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com