May 2010 Issue

Spill the Beans — Tips to Help Clients Get Their Fiber From the Best Sources
By Lindsey Getz
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 12 No. 5 P. 20

As all dietitians—and perhaps most clients—know, fiber is an essential component of a healthy diet. It’s one of those facts that have been drilled home, even to the general public. High-fiber foods offer many health benefits to people with conditions such as constipation, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. And they are also important for weight maintenance, adds April Rudat, MS Ed, RD, LDN, a nutrition counselor and speaker.

“With about 65% or more Americans being overweight, we need to encourage fiber for weight control,” she says. “While we know that protein is necessary for satiety, fiber is just as important for feeling fuller longer. Fiber is one of the secrets of weight loss and maintenance.”

With all of these important benefits, it would seem to be a no-brainer that people should eat a fiber-filled diet. But the truth is that most Americans still don’t get enough daily fiber or remain confused about its best sources.

“Though we’ve been taught about the benefits of fiber for years, it’s amazing how many people still don’t know where to find good sources of fiber,” says Robin Plotkin, RD, LD, a culinary and nutrition communications consultant. “Partial blame falls on food manufacturers who confuse consumers with marketing lingo. But it’s also important for our medical community to be more knowledgeable about high-fiber sources and to be more diligent in teaching their patients the drawbacks, healthwise, of not having a diet high in fiber.”

Though it sounds contradictory, consumers may be confused about where to get their fiber because it seems to be added to everything nowadays, says Katherine Zeratsky, RD, LD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Everywhere consumers look on grocery store shelves, the food boxes are saying ‘fiber added.’ You can even find it in ice cream. That can definitely be a beneficial thing for clients who aren’t getting enough fiber, but there’s a problem when the importance of still eating healthy whole foods is lost. Saying ‘I ate a chocolate-covered granola bar today so I don’t need beans or that apple’ is not the solution to a diet rich in fiber.”

While it’s a great boost to get that added fiber from other sources, whole food sources are still best. “I like to tell clients to ‘think outside the box,’” agrees Rudat. “Some of nature’s best fiber-rich foods don’t come in a box with a Nutrition Facts label.” Sometimes clients need that reminder.

So how do you get your clients to add more healthy fiber to their diets? Often, the biggest roadblock to overcome is clients’ reluctance to try new things, says Zeratsky. Many people get in the habit of eating the same foods week after week. “Getting more fiber may mean being a little more adventurous with food choices,” she adds.

The best way to tackle these issues and encourage your clients to consume more fiber is to offer them plenty of tips, tricks, and recipes. “RDs definitely need to have cooked plenty of their own high-fiber meals so that they can share their experiences with their clients,” says Plotkin. “An RD’s personal recommendation of a recipe or a product will go much farther than handing a patient or client a sheet with just a list of high-fiber foods. Have a conversation about high-fiber foods, telling your clients what tastes great, what your own family enjoys, and how you’ve been able to incorporate more fiber into your own diet.”

To help, we’ve compiled ideas that you can share with your clients—and try yourself. Using the right tips and tricks, even the most stubborn eaters can find healthy ways to add more fiber to their diet.

Make the Most of the Magical Fruit
Beans seem like the obvious food choice when it comes to fiber, but they aren’t always the most popular food and people often struggle with ways to incorporate them into their diet. Fortunately, beans are great for “hiding” in other foods. “Encourage your clients to take baby steps,” says Zeratsky. “For instance, suggest they add beans [to] a soup they already like.”

Another aspect of beans that makes them great is that they are easy to work with. Whether canned, frozen, or dried, their preparation is relatively simple. Beans can be easily added to chili, casseroles, and many other dishes. They can even be substituted for meat since they’re packed with protein. Suggest that your clients use one half the amount of ground meat they’d add to their favorite chili recipe and make up for it with red kidney beans.

Chef Kyle Shadix, MS, RD, suggests adding legumes such as split peas, lentils, black beans, and lima beans to salsa or puréeing them as a side dish with a splash of olive oil and cracked pepper. He says legumes can also be chilled, combined with fruits and nuts, and served as a salad.

Of course, Mexican dishes always call for beans but also tend to be packed with not-so-wholesome ingredients. Seek out healthy Mexican recipes to suggest to your clients or instruct them to prepare their favorite dishes with lower fat ingredients and extra beans instead of meat. For instance, Plotkin suggests this healthy version of a two-bean taco: Mix two of your favorite beans in a bowl. Smash a bit and top with low-fat cheese, salsa, and guacamole. “You’ve got a simple vegetarian taco that’s brimming with fiber,” she says.

Offering the right recipe, you can convert even the most obstinate bean haters. Rudat specifically recommends cannellini beans (white Italian kidney beans) to her clients. She created a simple, tasty recipe starring cannellini beans (see below).

Eat Your Veggies
Vegetables are another obvious fiber-filled food, but sometimes adults can be as picky as children when it comes to eating adequate amounts. Arm yourself with fun recipes and ideas to turn your clients on to eating more vegetables. Again, recipes don’t need to be complex to be tasty. Shadix suggests sautéing leafy greens such as turnip greens, collards, and kale in olive oil and garlic for a simple side dish. Brussels sprouts tend to be one of the more unpopular veggies, but creative preparation can transform them. Shadix suggests sprucing them up by sprinkling blue cheese crumbles and toasted walnuts overtop of a plateful.

For those who aren’t fans of cooked vegetables, Shadix recommends sweet corn and points out that the French serve it chilled atop a salad in place of croutons. Experimenting with salads and adding different grains or flaxseeds as toppings is another way to fill up on fiber.

Storing precut vegetables in the refrigerator makes them accessible and can entice snackers. Arriving home after a long day of work, many people grab a snack that’s quick and easy; unfortunately, their choice isn’t always a healthy one. But if veggies are already cut into snack-sized dipping sticks, people are more likely to eat them. Encourage clients to experiment with dipping sauces and a variety of vegetables. They can try salsa, almond butter, hummus, and other nontraditional veggie dips.

Mixing in and adding vegetables to favorite foods is another way to fortify a meal with fiber. For instance, instead of serving peas as a side to macaroni and cheese, clients can mix them in. Doing so adds fiber to a pasta meal that wouldn’t otherwise offer much nutrition. Using whole wheat pasta makes the dish even healthier.

“We tend to have this idea that foods always need to be served on a divided plate,” says Zeratsky. “You’ve got your entrée, your side of a vegetable, a little salad, and a dessert. But food doesn’t have to be served that way.”

Substitute and Mix
Another simple way your clients can boost the fiber in their diets is switching to whole grain and whole wheat varieties of food. Some people will be opposed to the idea, but again, push these clients to take baby steps. For instance, they can slowly add brown rice to the menu by mixing it with regular white rice. Similarly, tell them to add a little whole wheat pasta to the pot of white penne they have boiling—a small but effective step toward change. They might not even be able to tell the difference after sampling the end result.

Plotkin says she recommends that her clients eat whole grain pancakes or muffins for a fiber-packed breakfast. She says simple substitutes can make any baked goods more fiber filled. “For any recipe that calls for white flour, substitute at least 1 or 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour,” she suggests.

For dinner, Plotkin recommends grinding up a high-fiber cereal to create a coating for meat meals such as chicken and fish or a binding agent for foods such as meatballs and meatloaf. “You can also use ground-up nuts to create a coating for breaded fish or chicken,” she continues. “I just did this myself with almonds mixed with Panko bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. It made a delicious coating.”

Although fruit isn’t usually one of the hard-sell foods, as many people already enjoy fruit by itself, you can encourage your picky eaters to toss fruit into foods such as yogurt and salad. Canned mandarin oranges are an easy addition to a favorite green leaf salad, for instance. In addition, Plotkin suggests adding raspberries to anything and everything clients can imagine. “With 8 grams of fiber per cup, they are a fiber lover’s dream!”
Shadix recommends adding high-fiber fruits such as apples and strawberries to cereal and oatmeal or serving them in a bowl with a scoop of low-fat ice cream. They can even be used as a compote for grilled meats, he adds.

For the client who is ready to be more adventurous and try something a little different, Shadix recommends adding pearled barley to his or her plate. It can also be added to soups or chilled and used as a base for a salad that might typically have pasta in it.

Pave an Easy Road to Change
While these suggestions may seem simple, often they are all it takes to encourage your clients to try new foods. An easy recipe that won’t require too much time or effort, especially if the individual is uncertain whether he or she will enjoy the end product, may be the key to success. Offer your clients creative tips and suggestions, as well as information on why a fiber-rich diet is so important, and they will likely make some crucial (and delicious) changes to their diet.

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pa.


Quick and Delicious Cannellini Beans

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 to 2 cloves (depending on preference) garlic, minced or pressed
1 T olive oil
Sprinkling of reduced-fat Parmesan cheese

Gently mix beans, garlic, and olive oil in a bowl. Top with reduced-fat Parmesan cheese.

Nutrient Analysis: Calories: 116; Total Fat: 5 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 1 mg; Sodium: 52 mg; Carbohydrates: 14 g; Fiber: 4 g; Protein: 5 g
Note: Based on 4 servings using a 15-oz can of beans and 1 T of Parmesan cheese

— Recipe courtesy of April Rudat, MS Ed, RD, LDN