Fiber: The Superstar Nutrient

The health benefits of a plant-based diet are well known. A plant-based diet is one that is packed with essential nutrients and most importantly, provides the body with loads of fiber! But before I tell you all about fiber’s benefits, I have to address what I know you are thinking…

Photo credit: smartypantsvitamins.com

Photo credit: smartypantsvitamins.com

“Why would I give up meat?”   You don't! In fact, adopting a plant-based diet does not mean you have to subtract anything from your diet! It means incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc.), nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your daily meals. By recommending a plant-based diet, I am simply suggesting that you ADD these foods to your meals. This not only gives your meals more variety, but also provides extremely healthful benefits.

Why healthier?    As I mentioned, plant-based foods are ones that come from… wait for it…. plants! All plant-based foods contain zero cholesterol and are packed with nature’s miraculous nutrient: fiber.

Why is fiber so amazing?

Photo Credit: pblife.org

Photo Credit: pblife.org

  •  It helps your body move food through your digestive system, promoting regularity and preventing constipation
  •  It helps keep you fuller longer, without adding extra calories to your daily allowance (aiding in weight loss and weight maintenance)
  • It helps control your blood sugar (preventing type 2 diabetes)
  • It helps to lower your cholesterol (preventing cardiovascular disease)
  • It reduces your risk of colon cancer

Yes, I am telling you, fiber is the superstar nutrient!

What does fiber look like?    You have all seen it before – the white peel around grapefruits or oranges, the skin of apples, cucumbers, and peaches, brown rice (the whole grain) versus white rice (the grain stripped of its nutrients)… and so much more!

The nutrients of the rice is in the bran!

Photo Credit: FoodHappy.ca

So next time you prepare a salad, do NOT peel the skin of your cucumbers! Choose a smoothie over a juice. Do not discard the peel of your apples! Eat it all, especially the peel, as this includes the most fiber.  

How much fiber do I need?    The Institute of Medicine recommends that men below the age of 50 need 38 grams of fiber per day. Women under the age of 50 need 25 grams of fiber each day. Adults 51 years of age or older need 30 grams (men) and 21 grams (women) each day.

Rather than thinking about, “how can I eat more fiber?” think more about, “how can I incorporate more plant-based foods into my diet?” Below are some tips for fitting more fiber into your daily meals:

The basic stamp tells you that the item has at least 8g of whole grains. The 100% stamp tells you that ALL of the food item's grains are whole grains. If the stamp is not present, read the ingredients list of the nutrition label!

The basic stamp tells you that the item has at least 8g of whole grains. The 100% stamp tells you that ALL of the food item's grains are whole grains. If the stamp is not present, read the ingredients list of the nutrition label!

  • Switch to WHOLE grains. Food manufacturers can be tricky. The packaging of a food item may say “whole grains,” but check the ingredients list. You want to go for “100% whole grain” rather than “whole grain.” If you do not see that the item includes 100% whole grains, keep reading! The next ingredient or two will most likely list refined grains. Some good choices include brown rice, wild rice, barley, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, and farro! It is recommended that you consume at least half of all grains as whole grains.
  • Add legumes. Beans, lentils, and peas are an excellent source of fiber. Add beans to soups, salads, sandwiches, and salsas. Try making a bean spread.

           **Check out my recipes for a garlicky bean spread that adds awesome flavor and fiber to many meals!

  • Sprinkle your seeds. To add some extra fiber to your meals, add seeds! Sesame seeds tastes great on stir-fry. Add chia seeds to your water, oatmeal, or sandwiches. Sunflower seeds are delicious on salads! Get creative! Be aware of your portion sizes as seeds are nutrient-dense and provide a lot of calories for only a small amount.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables not only contain fiber but also essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need. For a snack, have an apple with nut butter. Or add some vegetables to your pasta or pizza! The USDA’s current nutrition guide, MyPlate, recommends that you should fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.

 Remember to add more fiber to your diet gradually. Adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating, and cramping. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water so that soluble fiber can absorb it and create soft, bulky stool.