Natural Fiber Foods That Regulate and Protect

If you have ever had to go through the experience of being a little stopped up when going to the bathroom, then I am sure you know all about natural fibers and their importance.  However, for those fortunate readers that haven't had to endure that suffering, you may not have a very thorough and accurate understanding as to what these essential dietary components really are.  Well, fear not! You have come to the right place.  Starting with the basics, I'm going to give you the full rundown on the function and importance of fibers, a list of delicious foods and ingredients packed with fiber, and how to incorporate them into your diet. 

Let's start off with a basic question: what is fiber?  Fiber is a nutrient found in a number of plant-based foods that is originally used to give the plant structure and stability.  Fiber can come in two different forms, soluble and insoluble.  Soluble fibers are fibers that can be dissolved in liquids within the body and are the ones that aid with controlling cholesterol and other essential body functions.  Insoluble fibers are those that can't be dissolved within the body, which means that they travel through the body unscathed all the way to excretion and provide the benefit of healthier stool production.  The insoluble variety is the types of fibers that those aforementioned individuals are struggling with constipation look to incorporate into their diets.

When humans come along and pick a plant for our own dietary needs, the fibers in the plant come along with it.  Moreover, lucky for us, these fibers have a large number of positive health effects on our bodies.  Whether it be helping keep cholesterol levels at a healthy level, aiding in digestion and the smooth passing of foods from our body, or keeping us feeling full after a meal, fiber plays an essential role in our overall health and well-being.

There are dozens of foods from all over the food pyramid that can get you your much needed natural fiber in your diet.  Here are five of the best fibrous foods that are both nutritious and delicious. 

Eating Whole Grains Could Mean a Healthy Life

If you are like me, hearing the words "whole grain" used to make foods sound a little less appealing.  I was always finding myself picking white over wheat bread and sugary cereals over their healthier alternatives.  While this may be because of my insatiable sweet tooth, I have to admit that I was a little presumptuous with my judgment of whole grains.  There are a number of delicious foods that I love which I had no idea were packed with essential fiber.  Whether it is popcorn, a plate of brown rice, a yummy bowl full of oatmeal, or numerous other options, these whole grain foods are packed with a high number of nutritious natural fibers.  While it is true that these foods provide much-needed fiber into our diets, the benefits don't stop there.  According to the American Heart Association, the fiber that you get from whole grains specifically can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.  Incorporating more of these whole grains into your diet can lead to sweeping health benefits that will keep your body healthy and feel good both today and in the future.

Flax Seeds: An Uncommon Ingredient with Essential Health Benefits

While we have all heard about whole grain foods, there's another nutritious ingredient that is talked about a lot less often: flax seeds.  These gluten-free plants are an item often overlooked in a typical diet.  Flax seeds are packed with a long and impressive list of nutrients, including high amounts of protein, vitamins B1 and B6, omega-3 fatty acids, and of course natural dietary fibers.  As a result of the high fiber content, these small seeds can work wonders on your digestive tract, promote the absorption of essential nutrients that travel through your intestines.  In addition to promoting overall daily health, several scientific studies have shown that the consumption of flax seeds can potentially lead to decreased chances of developing various types of cancers, including breast and ovarian, due to the large quantities of antioxidants present in the flax seed.  Now that you know what you have been missing out on, you will certainly be wanting to add these natural fibers to your shopping list the next time you visit the grocery store.

Fruits and Fiber: What You Need To Know

We now return to a more well-known category of foods that we all have (or should have) in our houses all the time: fruits.  We've all heard the old adage, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away!", and in the case of natural fiber and nutritional benefits, that statement could not be any truer.  Apples contain approximately five grams of fiber per serving, which translates to about 20% of our recommended daily serving.  Apples come in a large variety of types, so you are almost certain to find one to your liking.  However, if apples aren't your favorite, don't be upset!  There are numerous other fruits that can help you meet your daily fiber needs, including pears, bananas, strawberries. Blackberries, and raspberries, with raspberries being the option with the highest natural fiber content at eight grams per serving.  These fruits are nutritious and beneficial for health and also have the added benefit of tasting delicious.  It can never hurt to throw a few more of these fruits into your diet.

Fruits are Good, but Vegetables are too!

If I had a nickel for every time I was told to eat my fruits and vegetables as a kid, I could have bought every new video game that came out and still had a nice chunk of money in my piggy bank.  And even though I knew they were good for me, I would still always groan at the thought of having to eat those unappetizing greens on my plate in front of me.  However, as the years have progressed, I have been able to more fully appreciate the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables and the tremendous health benefits they can bring me today and in the future. While I may still groan from time to time, I know that I'm only doing my body a favor by eating them and reaping the essential benefits they provide.

We've been over how beneficial fruits are in a healthy diet filled with natural fibers, and now it's time to talk about vegetables.  In particular, one specific vegetable stands out as being particularly nutritious and filled with fiber: green peas.  One cup of these small greens have an impressive seven grams of fiber per serving, which translates to 28% of your daily value of fiber.  As we have seen with many other items on this list, the high natural fiber content isn't the only benefit to adding green peas to your diet.  They are also packed with protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. I don't know about you, but that seems pretty darn impressive coming from a vegetable so small and unassuming.  I now realize my parents were right all along: I should have started eating these years ago!

Beans are Packing Lots of Fiber

You know that saying "Save the best for last"?  Well in reference to this list of fibrous foods, that is certainly what we've done.  While the other items on the list are certainly excellent nutritional options for your fiber and other nutritional needs, each one pales in comparison to the natural fiber content in beans.   The fiber content in these tasty legumes is so impressive; I'm going to ask that you take a seat before I tell you how much they have.  Yes, it's that impressive.  Are you ready?  One single cup of raw kidney beans contains a whopping 46 grams of fiber per serving.  That's equal to 184% of your recommended daily value!  Kidney beans aren't the only option, however.  Raw black beans have 30 grams per cup serving, and baked beans (my all time favorite!) have a still impressive 14 grams per cup.  As we can clearly see here, beans are some of the best producers of natural fiber on the planet.  If you are looking to incorporate more fiber into your diet, beans are certainly an inexpensive and yet delicious option to satisfy your nutritional needs.

After reading through this list, you should feel confident that you have gained a greater understanding of fiber, why it's essential, and where to find it and incorporate it into your diet.  According to USDA guidelines, a healthy adult needs about 25 grams of fiber in his or her diet every day.  This can be achieved through endless combinations of the foods on this list or those that weren't listed.  Even though several of the most important and nutritious foods with natural fibers were listed, there are dozens that we didn't get to discuss here.  If none of these options seem appealing to you, I encourage you to do your own research and find foods that meet your natural fiber needs.  Foods that are packed with fiber and other nutritional benefits are literally everywhere, all you have to do is look.  Making a switch to a healthier diet with more natural fiber will benefit you greatly down the road, and I promise that you won't regret it.

Heather Bauer

Heather Bauer is a nationally recognized nutrition expert, author, and entrepreneur.

She brings her fresh and inspiring approach to diet to prime time spots on Good Morning America, CNN, CBS, The Talk, Access Hollywood Live and The Tyra Banks Show. And she's featured in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and People Magazine. 

Heather is the author of two best-selling nutrition and diet books, The Wall Street Diet and Bread is the Devil, and has regular columns on The Huffington Post and USNews where she writes about the latest trends.

She is the founder of Bestowed, the leading product discovery platform for health-conscious consumers, and has an active nutrition counseling practice in NYC, which she founded in 2001.

Heather is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a New York State Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist (CDN). She graduated from The University of Wisconsin with honors and is a member of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the New York State Dietetic Association (NYSDA).