One of the main reasons a plant-based diet is so good for you is that plants are the only source of dietary fiber. Meat has no fiber. Why is fiber so important? It does a whole lot more than help you poop.
Fiber helps reduce your risk of heart disease. Fiber comes in two types, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, which usually comes from the flesh of plant-based foods, absorbs water when it enters your digestive system and forms a gel-like substance. Soluble fiber helps reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol because it interferes with and reduces the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol into your bloodstream. Studies have also shown that it significantly reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Fiber helps prevent diabetes. Foods that are high in fiber, especially soluble fiber, are digested more slowly and glucose is released more slowly into the bloodstream, thereby helping you to control your blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Fiber helps keep your digestive system healthy and reduces the risk of colon cancer. Insoluble fiber, which usually comes from the tougher outer skins of fruits and vegetables, bulks up your stool and pushes waste through your intestines. This helps prevent constipation and problems like hemorrhoids. It also decreases your risk for colorectal cancer because it helps your body get rid of toxins and carcinogens more quickly to prevent them from having a chance to pass into your bloodstream.
Fiber helps with weight loss. High fiber foods take longer to digest and help you feel full longer to prevent you from overeating. Because they also take longer to chew, your brain has more time to signal that you’ve had enough, and you should stop eating.
Fiber is important for gut health. Your gut houses trillions of bacteria, some good and some bad. Some soluble fiber, known as prebiotics, is fermented in the intestine and become food for the good bacteria, known has probiotics. The good bacteria in your gut help to control the bad bacteria, resulting in healthier gut and a stronger immune system for overall health.
The minimum recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. The best sources of fiber are:
- Vegetables: 1/2 cup = 2 – 4 grams of fiber. The highest fiber veggies are artichokes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collard greens, kale, beet greens, Swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery root, beets.
- Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, oats, bulgur, millet, and barley: 1/2 cup = 2 – 4 g of fiber.
- Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils: 1/2 cup = 6 – 8 g of fiber.
- Nut and seeds: 1.5 oz = approx 3 g of fiber
- Fruits and vegetables: Average fruit = 3 – 5 g of fiber. Make sure you keep the skin on whenever possible and eat the fruit whole. Fruit juice is not a good source of fiber because it usually leaves out the peel and the pulp. The highest fiber fruits include apples, oranges, bananas, berries, and mangos.
Make it a habit of feeding on fiber foods throughout the day, working to meet or exceed the recommended daily amount. Focus on whole foods as close to their natural state as possible.