How to achieve your fiber goals
Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (baltimoresun.com/pictureofhealth), which is reprinted here. This week, Deb Schulze weighs in on fiber.

With all the discussions about the health benefits of fiber, people wonder how much they need. Here are the daily recommendations from a leading research group, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies:

• For ages 50 and younger: Men should eat 38 grams and women 25 grams.

• For ages 51 and older: Men should eat 30 grams and women 21 grams.

Dietary fiber, found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, can lower a person's risk of diabetes and heart disease, along with relieving and preventing constipation. Fiber is classified in two categories:

•Soluble fiber: dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance and can be found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, barley, carrots and psyllium.

•Insoluble fiber: promotes the movement of the foods you eat through your digestive tract and increases stool bulk. Good sources are whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and many vegetables.

Breakfast

People wishing to increase their fiber should start their day with a fiber-filled breakfast.

A daily serving of whole-grain breakfast cereal was associated with a 28 percent lower risk of heart failure in a Harvard analysis of data from the Physicians' Health Study.

Remember to read labels for the fiber content and try to avoid highly processed items. Look for cereals with five or more grams of fiber per serving. According to a recent report from the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, General Mills Whole Grain Total cereal contains 3g dietary fiber per 3/4 cup serving, and Fiber One cereal contains 14g dietary fiber per 1/2 cup serving.

Fiber can be added to anything. Try including a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to cereal, and add fresh fruit, raisins, dried fruit and/or nuts to your cereal.

Legumes

Legumes are high in dietary fiber, along with protein and folate. In their dried state, they are naturally low in fat and sodium and are easy to prepare as an entree. Legumes come in many varieties, including beans, peas (split peas), lentils, black-eyed peas, navy, kidney, black, white, garbanzo, soybeans, fava and lima beans. A cup of any cooked bean gives at least half of the recommended daily intake of folate and typically provides 10-14 grams of fiber.

More tips

•Purchase or make your own snack mix made from ready-to-eat, whole-grain cereals, and don't forget the nuts and dried fruit.

•Choose a whole-grain (whole wheat or oatmeal) muffin or toast. Look for breads with at least 5 grams per serving

•Use whole-grain breads or cracker crumbs in a meatloaf and other recipes.

•Try brown rice stuffing cooked with onion, celery, carrots and seasonings in baked peppers or tomatoes. Half a cup of brown rice has about 2 grams of fiber

•Make or purchase cookies made with some whole-grain flour or oatmeal.

•Try whole-grain snack chips with tomato, bean or hummus dips. Half a cup of black beans or chickpeas have about 5-7 grams of fiber

•Use whole-wheat pasta or brown rice in your favorite dishes.

•Experiment with whole grains such as kasha (roasted buckwheat), quinoa, pearl barley and bulgur wheat in casseroles or salads. Half a cup of quinoa has about 5 grams of fiber

•Make a salad with fresh vegetables and cut-up fresh fruit for a wonderful combination of flavors.

•Add granola to the top of yogurt for a great crunch.

•Choose fruits and vegetables with edible skins, such as apples, plums, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini and carrots. They can be fresh, frozen or canned. One serving can provide a range of 1.5-3.5 grams of fiber.

Remember: When adding fiber, do so gradually, and drink lots of water to help your body adjust to a higher-fiber intake.

An earlier version misstated the amount of fiber in General Mills Whole Grain Total and Fiber One cereals. The correct amount is 3g dietary fiber per 3/4 cup serving and 14g dietary fiber per 1/2 cup serving respectively. The Sun regrets the error.