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How to Increase Fiber Without Overloading on Calories

Many high-fiber foods are also high in calories. If you're looking to increase fiber but keep calories under control, you want foods with a high fiber density. 

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #479

You can calculate a food’s fiber density by dividing the fiber by the calories. Foods with a higher fiber density provide more fiber for fewer calories. A cup of black beans, for example, has about 17 grams of fiber and 220 calories. It’s fiber density is about 8. A cup of cooked broccoli only has about 5 grams of fiber but also has less than 50 calories. Its fiber density is almost 12. Foods with a higher fiber density will help you increase your fiber intake without taking in too many calories.

You can use this quick and dirty calculation to compare any two foods. But I crunched the numbers on a few thousand foods for you. And here’s what I found.

Remember that you can quickly calculate the fiber density of any food by dividing the fiber grams by the calories.

As a rule, legumes will give you the most fiber per serving, with anywhere from 12 to 18 grams of fiber per cup. High fiber cereals, crackers, and breads will also give you a lot of fiber per serving. But because all of these foods are also relatively high in calories, they have single digit fiber density scores.

If it’s fiber density you’re looking for, make friends with those leafy greens. Beet, mustard, and turnip greens, chicory and endive all have fiber density scores of 15 or higher. Next on the list would be kale, berries, broccoli, green beans, and artichokes, with fiber density scores between 10 and 15.  Most legumes fall between 5 and 10. Meanwhile, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and cereals generally have fiber density scores of less than 3, meaning you’ll have to take in a lot of extra calories to take in much fiber.

Here’s a table of healthy foods ranked according to their fiber density.  

Although you probably won't see fiber density on Nutrition Facts labels or diet tracking software anytime soon, remember that you can quickly calculate the fiber density of any food by dividing the fiber grams by the calories. A fiber density of ten or more signals a food that delivers a lot of fiber without many calories. 

Do you have a nutrition question you'd like me to answer in a future podcast? Send me an email or stop by the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.

Image of fibrous foods © Shutterstock

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.