March 1, 2010— -- The essential foods that help you fill up, slim down and stay healthy have one common denominator: fiber.
Companies are touting the fiber content of their products right on the label, which has paid off in sales. And if you choose the right foods, it will pay off for you, too.
You should get 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but most Americans barely get half that, according to "GMA" medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard.
Fiber not only helps your waist line, it's great for colon health and lowering "bad" cholesterol, and can alleviate constipation and diverticulitis, a digestive disease. Because it slows sugar absorption, Savard said, fiber also minimizes the insulin spike that can cause metabolic syndrome (a combination of conditions that can lead to heart disease and diabetes).
If that isn't enough, Savard said, she "first got addicted to fiber when I was pregnant with my firstborn" because it helps with hemorrhoids. Pregnant women should be sure to make fiber part of their diet, she said.
Introduce more fiber into your diet gradually and vary your fiber sources so you don't get bored with the same foods, Savard said. She recommends drinking a lot of water, because fiber can cause gas and bloating.
Whole Grains: Brown Rice, Wheat Bran Cereals
You can get fiber from bran cereals such as Fiber One, which has a whopping 14 grams of fiber in a half cup serving, and All Bran, which has 10.4 grams in a half cup serving, which has 90 calories.
You can double your fiber intake simply by switching from white rice to brown rice, Savard said.
Nuts and Seeds: Quinoa, Almonds
For seeds, Savard recommends quinoa, which you can use in place of rice for a change of pace. It has a similar texture and a nuttier taste. "Cook it just like you cook rice," Savard said. In the end, 3½ ounces has 7 grams of fiber.
As for nuts, almonds are a great source of fiber -- 2.4 grams in a quarter cup packs 56 calories and healthy fats and proteins to boot.
CLICK HERE for more information on how to get more fiber.
5 Ways to Get More Fiber in Your Diet
Fruits and Vegetables: Apples, Broccoli, Figs
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, a great high-fiber choice is a medium apple, which has 70 calories and 4 grams of fiber, Savard said. Raw broccoli has just 20 calories in a 1/2 cup serving and 4 grams of fiber. Three dried figs have 120 calories and 10.5 grams of fiber.
Legumes and Beans: Black Beans
Black beans are great in soup and terrific with brown rice, Savard said. One cup has 190 calories and 19.4 grams of fiber. That's almost a whole day's worth in just a cup.
One serving or dose of a supplement with psyllium has about 2 grams of fiber.
Savard's secret recipe for fiber? Her homemade granola. She starts each day with it and gives it as a gift to friends and family. A one-half cup serving has about 10 grams of fiber.
CLICK HERE for the recipe.