The Missing Week: Fiber

Fun fact: for a year during middle school, I was a cheerleader. Pleated skirt, herkie jumps, the whole nine yards. Back then, I was cheering for our basketball team (go, Bulldogs!); but since then, I’ve focused my boosterism on an entirely different area.

If you can’t make out that scribble in my anatomy & physiology class notes, it says, “Yay colon!” I’ve researched it for work, read about it in school, and even toured it (twice!) when the Colossal Colon exhibit visited Boston many years ago.

Inside the Colossal Colon (photo by David Lapidus)

Sadly, not everyone shares my love for the large intestine. Why else would roughly half of North Americans fall short of their daily recommended fiber intake? (For reference, women should target 25 grams daily if under 50 years old, 21 grams if 50+; men should get 38 grams if under 50 years old, 30 if 50+) So why do we care? Head past the jump…

When we short fiber, we’re doing our colons and ourselves a disservice. Soluble fiber – which attracts water on its way through, forming a viscous gel – helps balance intestinal pH, trap cholesterol (keeping it out of your bloodstream) and slows the absorption of glucose (preventing huge spikes in blood glucose). Insoluble fiber – which passes through essentially undigested – adds bulk and speeds the transit of intestinal contents, regulating motility and preventing constipation. Both types of fiber increase food volume, which literally fills you up more on fewer calories than fiber-poor foods.

Have I turned you into the kind of nerd who cheers for the large intestine? Yeah, ok, probably not. But there’s a good chance you could use some more fiber in your diet, so I’ve got a week’s worth of recipes that make fiber tasty, including the spinach, black bean, guacamole salad I’ve been packing for lunch during marathon chemistry class sessions.

Whether you’re a rabid fan of the colon or not, everyone can appreciate these fiber-rich main and side dishes:

  • Spiced butternut squash, lentil, goat cheese salad, from Serious Eats (here) 15g fiber per serving
  • Strawberry, broccoli and quinoa salad, from How Do You Cook Quinoa (here) 14g fiber per serving – A little mild for my taste; could use double the strawberries, more lemon juice, and some black pepper
  • Spinach salad with guacamole, salsa and black beans (recipe follows below) 10g fiber per serving
  • Ham and pear sandwich with spiced butter, from Serious Eats (here) 9g fiber per serving if you use whole-wheat bread, and ½ fresh pear per sandwich. I also cut the butter in half, and leave out the fontina.
  • Artichoke and red pepper frittata, from Eating Well (here) 8g fiber per serving
  • Nutty rice casserole, previously posted in baking dish week (here) 7g fiber per serving
  • Peach and roasted beet salad, from Not Eating Out In New York (here) 6g fiber per serving

Presumably, you’re not going to just eat those seven recipes for the rest of your life, and will want to consider how other food choices might deliver a good dose of fiber. Here are a few simple recommendations to help get more fiber in your day:

Fruits and vegetables, fruits and vegetables, fruits an... Do I sound like a broken record on this point? Among the four zillion reasons to boost your produce intake is the fact that they generally are great sources of fiber – both in absolute terms, and in nutrient-bang-for-caloric-buck terms. Fruits and vegetables tend to be good sources of soluble fiber.

Go whole with your grains. Refining grains strips them of the fibrous outer layers, leaving them fiber-poor relative to their unprocessed states. Whenever possible, go for whole-grain versions of the foods you typically eat (bread, cereal, pasta, etc). These are particularly good sources of insoluble fiber.

Legumes. Look, they’re called the Magical Fruit for a reason. A mere half cup of most beans contains roughly a third of an adult’s daily fiber requirement. Like fruits and veggies, beans are good sources of soluble fiber. If you need some ideas for beaning up your menus, check out this post from a while back.

Before we get to that spinach and black bean salad, a quick note. You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet around the Week lately. I’m finishing an intensive summer chemistry course this week, and should be posting more frequently thereafter

Spinach salad with guacamole, salsa and black beans (text file here)

This is a simple, no-rules salad, so feel free to add or substitute ingredients however you see fit. That said, the trick to keeping this in the High Fiber Zone is making sure you’ve got those beans in there.

(1 serving, approx. 250 calories each)

2-3 cups spinach
½ cup black beans
4 tablespoons guacamole
4 tablespoons salsa
1 carrot, chopped
½-1 tomato, diced

Put the spinach in a bowl, and add tomato, beans and carrot. Layer guacamole and salsa over the top, and serve.


  1. […] a bowl! This trick is particularly helpful when eating out, but you can also try it at home with my spinach, salsa, guacamole and black bean salad. Just 250 calories and packed with protein and fiber to help you feel […]

  2. Junvi says:

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  3. […] No running posts on ETW during August 2011 – apparently I was too busy doing product-review posts. But in the food-related archive, I found another one of my favorite Missing Week posts that featured a raft of fiber-ful recipes and me inside a colon. […]

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