Fiber consists of indigestible carbohydrates and is only available in plant foods. It can not be degraded and contains no nutrients. Still, dietary fiber is essential and health-promoting in a variety of ways.
In this post, we'll discuss the benefits of fiber as well as which foods are the best sources. We'll also talk about some easy strategies to incorporate more fiber into your diet.
What are the different kinds of fiber?
There are two types: water-soluble fiber and water-insoluble fiber. Both promote health differently.
Water-soluble fiber absorbs a lot of water. As a result, it softens and loses its structure. Because of that, it can be degraded almost entirely by the bacteria in the colon. This degradation leads to either one of two things:
1) the production of health-promoting short-chain fatty acids or
2)the formation of bacterial masses that are excreted.
Water-soluble fiber has a positive effect on carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Moreover, it can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Water-insoluble fiber also binds a lot of water but is not very useful to intestinal bacteria. Therefore, the body expels most of it. Insoluble fiber increases stool volume and promotes bowel movement.
What are the benefits of fiber?
Regularly consuming fiber offers a variety of health benefits. This list mentions some of the most important ones.
A high-fiber diet:
- promotes the excretion of harmful substances (toxins, carcinogens, heavy metals, etc.)
- helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- promotes healthy intestinal bacteria
- makes you feel full faster and keeps you satiated (which helps prevent cravings, excess weight, and may generally lower your food and calorie intake)
- can help lower cholesterol and promote cholesterol excretion in the bile.
- supports the regulation of blood sugar
- promotes the development of short-chain fatty acids in the colon, which have a positive effect on blood sugar and reduce inflammation as well as cancer risk
- increases stool volume, which promotes regular bowel movement
- lowers the risk of chronic diseases (particularly obesity, diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease)
- stimulates salivation and improves dental health
- is anti-inflammatory and growth-inhibiting (cancer prevention)
- inhibits pathogenic germs in the colon while increasing desired bacteria (prebiotics)
Are there downsides to eating a high-fiber diet?
Despite the benefits of a high-fiber diet, there are also some "negative " side effects associated with it. For example, consuming large amounts of fiber may reduce the absorption of some minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc).
However, it is essential to note that the reduced uptake of some nutrients is compensated by the generally much higher intake of vitamins and minerals on a whole-foods plant-based diet.
Another side effect may be bloating. Even so, this usually goes away almost entirely once your body adjusts to eating more fiber.
All in all, the benefits of a high-fiber diet clearly outweigh the possible "side effects".
How much fiber should you eat every day?
The daily fiber requirement is 30 g. With just one serving of legumes, you can meet the need.
Vegans, on average, get 58 g of fiber per day. Therefore, they usually don't need to worry about not getting enough.
However, in the general population, 75% of women and 68% of men do not reach the recommended fiber intake.
Not eating enough fiber is associated with constipation as well as a higher risk of certain chronic diseases (such as colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, gallbladder/kidney stones).
Also, it may lead to poor blood sugar control, which can promote Type II diabetes mellitus. Because fiber helps you feel full, not getting enough may promote obesity as you are prone to eat more.
List of high-fiber foods
- White beans
- Black beans
- Red lentils
- Whole wheat pasta
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potato
Summary: Some of the best sources of fiber are white beans, flaxseed, black beans, red lentils, artichokes, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, chickpeas, soybeans, and figs.
How to incorporate more fiber into your diet
As a vegan, you are likely well supplied with fiber, especially if you follow a whole-foods diet. (You can find tips for implementing a whole-foods diet here and here).
Also, you can use these easy strategies to add more fiber to your diet:
- Use whole grains instead of refined grains, for example:
- For bread, use the whole-wheat option
- Use brown rice instead of white rice
- Choose whole wheat flour instead of white flour
- Choose whole-wheat pasta
- Add more pseudocereals, such as quinoa and amaranth to your meals
- Consume one serving of whole-grains at each main meal. Here are some examples:
- Breakfast: add oats to your smoothie
- Lunch: choose whole-wheat bread for your sandwich
- Dinner: Use brown rice to go with your vegetable curry
- Add legumes to your meals regularly (ideally 2-3 times a day) for example:
- Salad with beans
- Hummus as a spread for bread
- Spaghetti with lentil bolognese
- Eat a green salad with your lunch and dinner
- Add one serving of chia seeds/flaxseed/ hemp seeds to your smoothies, cereals, porridge every day
- Choose healthy, high-fiber snacks such as
- Popcorn (unsalted, without butter)
- Fruits and nuts f.e. apple or berries + almonds
- Vegetable sticks with hummus
- Roasted chickpeas
Tips for implementing a high-fiber diet successfully
If, until now, your diet has been low in fiber, you should slowly increase your fiber intake to not overwhelm your body.
It is also crucial that you drink plenty of water because not drinking enough may lead to flatulence and constipation.
Moreover, some benefits of fiber may not be fully effective unless you drink enough water (bowel motility, saturation).
Further, it is helpful, especially at the beginning, to incorporate digestive spices such as turmeric, cumin, and caraway seeds into your dishes. Additionally, you should cook legumes sufficiently.
Summary: Benefits of fiber + list of high-fiber foods
What are your strategies for getting enough fiber?