Our society has become obsessed with protein, mainly because of advertising and the media, but the real urgency should be whether or not you are getting enough dietary fiber. Virtually all Americans get too much protein, but it is shocking that less than 3 percent of us get the minimum recommended intake of fiber!
The first symptom of not getting enough fiber is constipation, but fiber does much more than keep you regular. It fills you up so you’re not hungry and also helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, keeps blood sugar stable, keeps your colon clean, and makes it easier to lose weight.
The amount of fiber you consume has dramatic effects on the composition of your intestinal microbiota which is what keeps your immune system healthy or causes disease. A lack of dietary fiber has been associated with a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and various cancers, as well as higher cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
Plant foods are high in fiber to keep you full and regular. Animal foods have no fiber leading to acid stomach and constipation. Eating a diet consisting of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, starches and grains eliminates your chances of digestive problems and increases your chances of weight loss.
Protein is found in all foods we eat — in animals and in plants — so if you are eating enough calories to maintain your ideal weight, you are getting enough protein. If you’re eating too many calories and therefore gaining weight, then you are getting excess protein which can lead to serious health problems including chronic kidney disease and cancer.
Unlike protein which is found in all foods, fiber is found only in plant foods – vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, whole grains, starches, nuts/seeds – so if you’re not eating enough plant foods, you are fiber deficient which also leads to health problems.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. Though most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules, fiber cannot be broken down and instead it passes through the body undigested. Fiber helps regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check.
Fiber foods that are lowest in calories include greens, vegetables, potatoes, and most fruits. Fiber foods higher in calories include oatmeal and other whole grains, beans and lentils, rice, whole grain breads and pasta. Fiber foods highest in calories include nuts and seeds, avocados and olives.
High fiber foods are also high in antioxidants and vital micronutrients that the body needs to be healthy and fight infections and cancer.
Stomach stretch – Fiber vs. Fat
We need to eat a certain quantity of food at each meal before our stomach stretches enough to feel full, according to Drs. Alona Pulde and Matthew Lederman. This is why portion control and willpower don’t work, leaving us hungry and grouchy.
Fiber is what fills us up the fastest with minimum calories and maximum nutrients. One of the major advantages of a whole foods, plant-based diet is that these foods have a lot more bulk since they contain more fiber and water. “This bulk takes up more space, so our stomachs end up stretching sufficiently to shut off hunger signals despite having consumed fewer calories,” explains Pulde and Lederman.
Leafy greens contain 100-200 calories per pound, while fats and oils contain 4,000 calories per pound. Eating plant foods provides the correct number of calories and the appropriate volume of food needed to properly signal your body that it has had enough to eat, helping you maintain a healthy, ideal body weight.
Dietary fat provides zero nutrients and maximum calories. It also increases blood sugar levels and causes people with diabetes to require more insulin. Because animal foods contain no fiber and little water, and processed foods have most or all of their fiber and water removed, a whole foods, plant-based diet is the only way to eat if you want to feel satisfied while also consuming fewer calories for weight loss.
Fiber sources to avoid
Fiber sources to be avoided include processed sources such as laxatives and fiber supplements. It is best to choose fiber-rich foods over fiber supplements in order to get the full range of phytonutrients and phytochemicals that nourish the body and fight disease. It is also preferable to choose whole plant foods over processed fiber products that usually contain processed sugars, oils and other unhealthy and toxic ingredients.
6 Tips for increasing fiber intake:
• Plan each of your meals to include plenty of vegetables, whole grains, starches, beans/legumes, and fruits.
• Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with whole grain products.
• Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
• For breakfast, choose cereals that have a whole grain as their first ingredient with no added sugar. Oats and oatmeal are the best choice. Sweeten by adding fruit such as berries or raisins.
• Snack on raw vegetables, hummus, fruits and limited nuts instead of chips, cookies, candy or other junk foods.
• Substitute beans/legumes or vegan meatless options for meat, in tacos, burritos, pasta sauce, chili, soups, sandwiches, etc.
Article by Christine & Sonny Gray
Photo credit: sharonpalmer.com