Ah, fiber. When most of us hear the word, we immediately think about the digestive benefits, and for good reason: Fiber is one of the best ways of promoting digestive health.
But experts say there are plenty of other healthy reasons to like fiber -- reasons that are often overlooked.
"The benefits go far beyond digestion," registered dietitian Karen Ansel, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and co-author of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life, tells The Huffington Post.
"It can help you feel fuller, longer and it can help with diabetes," she says, adding that fiber has also been shown to regulate blood sugar and lower blood cholesterol levels.
"Fiber, in my mind, is one of the most underrated nutrients," Ansel says.
To get those benefits, the Institute of Medicine recommends individuals eat 14 grams for every 1,000 calories of food, which means most of us should be getting between 25 and 40 grams daily. But, as the National Institutes of Health reports, we tend to fall way short -- the average American gets only about 14 grams per day.
Fortunately, with just a bit of planning and know-how, it is relatively easy to work fiber into your diet. And while people often think of standbys like whole-wheat bread, greens and oatmeal, there are many other ways to work more fiber into your diet.
So without further ado, here's a list of seven more surprising (or overlooked) ways to get your daily dose of fiber. Think we left any of the list? Let us know!
"Everyone always thinks of vegetables and fruits and whole grains when they think of high-fiber foods, but nuts are very impactful," says Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For example, a quarter cup of almonds has 4 grams of fiber. But Crandall says she doesn't advocate one type of nut over another. "Each nut yields a different nutrient profile," she explains. "Add variety rather than getting burned out on one."
"Another hidden source that many people don't [think of] is frozen peas," Ansel says, explaining that they're a great option to always have on hand. "A cup of cooked peas has about 4 grams of fiber," she continues, "and it's a really easy way to get it."
"Chia seeds are a great source of fiber, because they have both soluble and insoluble fiber," says Ansel, who explains that just one tablespoon of chia seeds packs around 6 grams. She recommends adding them to liquid, like iced tea and waiting half an hour for them to swell up (chia seeds absorb liquid) before enjoying. Crandall also suggests sprinkling them in yogurt, oatmeal or rice dishes, or tossing a few in your next salad. Another great seed option to consider? Flax seeds, Crandall says.
Ansel says that a medium onion has 2 grams of fiber, which isn't necessarily an enormous amount, but it's the type that matters. "Onions have inulin, a water-soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol and promotes regularity," she explains. Inulin is often added to fiber supplements, but Ansel says onions are a good natural source, as are foods like asparagus and leeks.
"If you are going to have grains, one of the best ones you can have is bulgur wheat, which has 8 grams per cup," says Ansel. The key, she explains, is preparation: Cook up a batch over the weekend or after grocery shopping so it's ready to go throughout the week. You can then throw some bulgur into a salad, which will help keep you fuller, longer, or throw some into a soup.
Ansel said that people don't often think about kiwis, which have about 2 grams of fiber and are a sweet and tangy option. The great thing about this fruit, she says, is that they're both satisfying and easy: Just a few tossed into your bag for an afternoon snack can help you hit those daily fiber recommendations. In the same vein (although perhaps a little bit more obvious) are berries -- particularly raspberries, thanks to their tiny seeds. Just one cup has 8 grams of fiber.
When it comes to sources of fiber, apples are basically hiding in plain sight. "Anything with 3 grams of fiber is considered a good source of fiber, and an excellent source is anything with 5 grams," Crandall says. "An apple has about 4 grams of fiber." Given that, eating just one a day can really help you meet your fiber goals. Have a few and you're well on your way.