Natural Sources of Fiber

Following is a list that includes some common grains that can be used to make pilafs similar to those in this section’s recipes. They are not difficult to cook, and they offer much more in the way of flavor than refined plain white rice.

The basic method of cooking grain is to boil it in water. The ratio of water to grain varies, but it is generally two and a half to three parts water to one part grain. Water is boiled, then the grains are added and simmered over low heat with the lid on to trap the steam. This tenderizes the grain by encouraging absorption of water.

It is also possible to cook grain as you would pasta, in a large pot of boiling water, straining out the grain when tender. This method loses some nutrients, but it is convenient if the optimal water-to-grain ratio is unknown.

While simply boiling grains works to cook them, their flavor is greatly enhanced by toasting. Several recipes in this section use a small amount of oil to toast the grain until brown and fragrant, giving it a nutty, rich flavor.

  • Amaranth: This tiny grain, grown at high altitude, originated in the Andes and Himalayas. It is commonly popped like popcorn, and bound together with honey, like an ancient Rice Krispies treat.

  • Barley: This grain is less popular than it used to be. It is rarely seen outside of soup, but it can make delicious side dishes and casseroles. Pearled or polished barley has the bran removed. Hulled barley has the bran intact and is the more healthful choice.

  • Buckwheat: This is not really a grain but the seed of an herb native to Russia. It is commonly ground into flour and used in a variety of breads. It is also known as kasha, which is a toasted buckwheat groat that is cooked like rice.

  • Bulgur: These wheat kernels have been steamed, dried, and crushed. They do not require cooking but need only be soaked in cold water. Bulgur is the base of Middle Eastern tabouli salad.

  • Couscous: This is not a grain, but a coarse granular semolina, which is a flour made from protein-rich wheat called durum. Couscous cooks quickly, and is a terrific vehicle for more flavorful sauces and stews. It is most associated with the cuisine of Morocco.

  • Cracked Wheat: This wheat is crushed with the bran intact. It is not pre-steamed like bulgur, so it must be cooked in boiling water like rice.

  • Kamut: This is an ancient strain of wheat, more than twice the size of modern wheat kernels, with a greater amount of protein. It can be made into pilafs, kneaded into breads, or ground into flour.

  • Millet: Used mostly as bird seed in the United States, this small grain is a staple food in much of the world, due to its high protein content and pleasantly mild flavor. It cooks up soft and delicate, absorbing flavors.

  • Oats: Most Americans eat oatmeal from rolled, quick-cooking oats. But oats are also available steel cut, as groats (grains that are hulled and crushed) or as flour.

  • Quinoa: This tiny grain has gained recent popularity, but it is actually an ancient food consumed by the Incas and Aztecs. It is extremely high in protein and easy to cook, and it has a pleasant crunch.

  • Rye: Closely related to barley and wheat, it is available rolled like oats or as rye berries, in which the grain is whole with the bran removed. Rye flour is commonly used in bread making, although it contains no gluten.

  • Spelt: This is an ancient relative of wheat, native to southern Europe. Spelt has more protein than common wheat and, like Kamut, has huge nutty grains.

  • Teff: A tiny grain from Africa, teff is high in protein, calcium, and iron. It is eaten as porridge or ground into flour and used to make the Ethiopian bread injera.

  • Triticale: This is a nutritious hybrid of wheat and rye, available in whole grain of flour forms.

  • Wheat Berries: These are whole grains of wheat stripped of their outer hulls.

Fruit and Vegetable Fiber

The more skins and seeds you eat with your fruits and veggies, the more fiber you’ll be getting. Some great sources are those that are mostly skin and seeds, like raspberries, blackberries, corn, kiwi, cucumbers, figs, and dried fruits. Stems are good too, and while you may not relish the thought of eating a stem, consider that celery and asparagus are nothing but stem.

All the green leafy vegetables are loaded with fiber. You can see it in the veins of the leaves. Artichokes, brussels sprouts, green beans, and onions are all good sources too. And the sweet potato is a fiber gold mine.

Keep plenty of these fiber-rich fruits and vegetables on hand. Keeping them washed and cut into serving sizes will encourage healthy snacking. Make fresh salads part of everyday eating, and use fresh and dried fruits to combat a sweet tooth.

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