The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that a healthy adult eat 28 grams (g) of fiber each day. However, less than 10% of the population meets this recommended daily fiber intake. The health benefits of eating fiber cannot be understated, as studies have shown that eating the recommended amount significantly reduces all-cause mortality — so it’s clear that we can benefit from getting more of it. But that might be easier said than done, especially at breakfast time. With a typical Western breakfast consisting of pancakes, eggs and meats, high-fiber foods are often placed on the back burner. And yet, with so many fiber-rich foods available to eat for breakfast, skimping on your morning fiber consumption is a missed opportunity. Here’s a guide to understanding the best high fiber breakfast foods, the benefits of fiber at breakfast, and delicious ways to change up your menu options to enjoy a healthier life.
What is fiber?
Most fibers are prebiotics, which are compounds that humans cannot digest. Instead, your gut microbes ferment them to provide benefits for themselves and your body. Two classes of fibers exist. Soluble fibers dissolve in water and provide nutrition for your gut microbes to grow. Insoluble fibers cannot dissolve in water, instead bulking up your stool to maintain healthy bowel movements and prevent diarrhea and constipation. Eating fibers provides a great way to keep your gut healthy and maintain your metabolic health.
The health benefits of fiber
The two classes of fiber provide distinct benefits for your body. Although many kinds of fibers exist within these classes, all of them provide diverse health benefits that protect against multiple diseases. Having more fiber in your diet reduces the mortality risk from colorectal cancer (CRC) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). For metabolic diseases, increasing dietary fiber intake also promotes weight loss and dietary adherence, mitigating the risk of obesity. Foods rich in fiber — including fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, and whole-wheat bread — also tend to have lower Glycemic Index (GI) scores, which means that these foods do not raise your blood glucose levels as much as other foods, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D).
What breakfast foods are high in fiber?
Many of the foods richest in dietary fiber can be obtained during the first meal of your day. These are the best high fiber breakfast foods:
- Nuts and seeds provide a rich source of soluble fibers. For instance, chia seeds provide 10 grams (g) of fiber per ounce. Almonds, pistachios, and sunflower kernels also provide 3.0-3.5 g of fiber per ounce. In addition to being an excellent source of fiber, walnuts, flaxseeds, peanuts and chia seeds also provide a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. The best part about nuts and seeds is that you can integrate them with any breakfast option for a delicious meal.Consider preparing a fruit and nut tart with some Greek yogurt to add an extra probiotic punch. Having scrambled eggs with vegetables and pine nuts is also a great way to add nuts to your meal. Also consider replacing regular butter with almond butter to keep a high fiber option when spreading your breads.
- Fruits contain an abundant mix of soluble and insoluble fibers. Citrus fruits, in particular, are an excellent source of soluble fibers. A small orange contains 2.3 g of fiber. Lemons also contain a form of hard-to-digest pectin that your gut microbes, such as B. thetaiotaomicron (a species commonly found in your guts), can digest. Consider finding a recipe for a fruit bowl that you can eat for breakfast. A fruit parfait is also a great way to integrate fruits and yogurt into your breakfast!
- Oatmeal is an excellent source of soluble fiber, providing 1.9 g of fiber per cup. Having oatmeal as part of your diet can help control your blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and prevent weight gain. Eating oatmeal-based meals for two days among 15 hospitalized T2D patients reduced the required daily insulin dosage and reduced A1c levels, a marker of T2D, 4 weeks after oatmeal cessation. However, be careful to not use rolled or instant oats when preparing oatmeal. When oats are processed, the kernel’s structural integrity is disturbed, enabling the oat’s starch to be processed by the pancreas. This removes the glycemic benefits that oats provide.
- Granola is a great snack or breakfast option if you want a mix of different ingredients for breakfast. A 2018 triple-blind, placebo-controlled intervention study performed on 55 obese or overweight adults showed that adults who replaced their daily snacks with an oligofructose granola bar saw reduced appetite, but not in other weight-based metrics. With obesity being an important risk factor for T2D, the ability to reduce appetite and caloric intake could provide long-term benefits in metabolic health. The healthiest granolas are made of whole grains, nuts and dried fruits. Be aware, however, that many granola formulations contain sweeteners and saturated fats that negate the benefits of eating its fibers. Granola bars are also calorie-dense, so if you are concerned about weight gain, finding an alternative to granola bars or making homemade granola/granola bars would be a good idea.
- Bread types abound, and white bread isn’t the only breakfast option. Many kinds of breads provide a rich source of fiber and other nutrients such as protein, zinc, phosphorus, omega-3s and essential vitamins. Whole-wheat bread, Ezekiel bread, sourdough, and other kinds of bread provide much more fiber than white bread. Plus, these breads are great alternatives for people who require a gluten-free diet because of their lower or nonexistent gluten levels.
You don’t have to exclude other kinds of food when seeking to meet your daily fiber intake at breakfast. Certain foods in the dairy group provide distinct benefits that complement fiber-rich foods in reducing T2D risk.
- Yogurt is milk fermented by lactic-acid bacteria, which makes yogurt a probiotic food. Consuming yogurt may provide benefits against T2D. A 2019 meta-analysis of all available data (prospective cohort and randomized control trials (RCTs)) to that date determined that consuming yogurt provides a neutral to moderate benefit on T2D risk. A subsequent 2022 study done in Korea showed that males who ingested more yogurt were less likely to develop T2D than those who did not. Whether probiotics contribute to these benefits remains to be seen. While a previous meta-analysis determined that ingesting a probiotic alone had no additional benefit on T2D risk, a 2022 review of the data suggests that eating fermented milk can reduce T2D risk. Another meta-analysis published in the same year, nevertheless, showed that only yogurt provided protective benefits against T2D among a panel of dairy products. Whether the other components of yogurt contribute to these benefits relative to probiotic alone requires further investigation.
- Low-fat milk contains less than 1% milk fat, in contrast to whole milk’s 3.25% milk fat level. Despite being lower in fat content, the data remains mixed regarding the benefits of low-fat milk relative to T2D risk. On one hand, a 2019 study of over 20,000 European participants showed no association between consuming milk and T2D risk. On the other hand, a 2020 study of individuals aged 35 to 70 determined that consuming whole milk, but not low-fat milk, reduced the risk of hypertension, T2D and metabolic syndrome. The lack of studies exploring the role of milk to T2D risk means that more investigation is required to clarify any protective benefits.
- Cheese consumption has also shown mixed results in clinical trials investigating the protective effects against T2D. A 2014 meta-analysis of 17 studies determined that the intake of cheese, along with other dairy products, reduced the risk of T2D. However, a 2021 study of Iranian participants determined that those who switched from low-fat milk or yogurt to regular cheese had increased risk of T2D in that time period. Like research into low-fat milk, more high-quality studies are needed to clarify the protective benefits of cheese against T2D.
Having high-fiber foods for breakfast does not prevent you from enjoying quality proteins, either. Proteins provide a means to build up muscles and maintain health for active males and females, and are especially important for post-menopausal women.
- Eggs provide an excellent source of protein for breakfast.
- Smoked salmon can also be a delicious option, and additionally is a great source of heart-healthy omega-3s.
- Plant-based sources of protein are another good way to get the protein you need to start your day.
- Beans and nuts will provide you with both a good quantity of protein as well as fiber.
The vast majority of adults don’t consume enough fiber, which is essential for keeping your whole body healthy and your gut microbes growing. With so many high-fiber food options available, even at breakfast you can start your day off by getting the fiber you need with the best high fiber breakfast foods. Begin by adding more fruits and vegetables into your meal, like making a vegetable-rich omelette or a fruit bowl. Then consider adding yogurt to keep your gut microbiome active and healthy, topped with some fiber-rich grains or nuts. Finally, consider integrating plant-based sources of protein or enjoy a sunny-side up egg with the rest of your fiber-packed breakfast.