What is fiber? How much do I need and how do I get it? —J.P., San Francisco, California
Fiber refers to the complex carbohydrates that cannot be absorbed by the body, but which provide bulk or roughage and aid in proper digestion. Foods high in fiber are most fruits, vegetables and whole-grain breads. The daily recommended amount for adults varies, depending on which health expert you talk to, but 30 grams is considered about average. Unfortunately, most Americans get barely half that amount. You can boost your fiber intake by snacking on fruits with skin and seeds, such as pears, plums, grapes, berries and apples. (Yes, your grandmother was right when she said an apple a day is good for you—that’s especially true if you eat the peel!) Vegetables, either cooked or raw, are also a good source of fiber—especially cabbage, cauliflower, kale, collards, bok choy and brussels sprouts. Consider high-fiber cereals for breakfast, too, and be creative in adding them to casseroles and using them in breading and stuffing. Choose whole-wheat and whole-grain products, and don’t pass up legumes, dried beans and dried peas.