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Whole, plant-based foods are filled with fiber to fill you up (not out) and they keep you feeling and looking your best. Fiber is one of the key nutrients to consider when it comes to preventing obesity, diabetes and warding off hunger. It’s also essential for removing cholesterol from the body and important if you’re looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight for life.

You’d have to eat pure cardboard not to get enough fiber in a vegan diet, considering that all fruits and vegetables contain fiber (in their whole food form) and animals contain absolutely no fiber. Nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, and legumes are also packed with fiber, along with heart-healthy protein and some healthy fats. Plus, there’s the cholesterol issue. Fiber helps sweep out the harmful arterial plaque from your arteries that is caused by eating animal foods. Having a healthy cholesterol level can help you prevent heart disease, diabetes, a stroke, and more.

One tip to keep in mind is the issue of fiber in whole foods versus processed foods. Many processed foods boast they’re a “good source of fiber,” but these fibers may not be from actual foods and may actually be from gums, starches, and hard-to-digest ingredients that your body doesn’t recognize very well. Always go for whole foods when adding more fiber to your diet.

Here are five ways that fiber can make your life and health easier.

1. Digestive Health

Fiber helps move food through the digestive tract, which is one of its largest benefits and roles of importance. Our digestive tracts contain more bacteria than cells in our bodies, and feeding that bacteria with fiber helps ensure that the good types of bacteria stay alive to fight off the bad bacteria. This can help everything from our immunity to our regularity, to how well we digest our food, and even our weight, according to recent studies. If you eat plant foods all day, you don’t have to worry about counting how many grams of fiber you eat. Consider that one apple has 4 grams, one pear has 5-6 grams, a bowl of oatmeal has 5 grams, and a green smoothie or salad could have well over 10 grams, depending on the ingredients. Chia, flax, hemp, cocoa, cacao, goji, acai, and other superfoods also contain high levels of fiber that make it easy to get enough in just a meal or two a day.

To find out the amount of fiber in any food, just check out Nutrition Data where you can also get a neat little graph that shows you what vitamins and minerals a food contains, too!

2. Blood Sugar

Fiber slows down the passage of food through the stomach, and in turn it helps slow down the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream. This prevents insulin from spiking and causing a blood sugar crash like sugary foods cause. This also helps ensure your blood sugar stays stable longer after each meal you eat.

Try this indulgent dish with sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and wild rice, which offers a fantastic list of ingredients to ensure you get your fiber needs in one simple, yet decadent meal.

3.  Fewer Cravings

Because fiber keeps you full, you’re less likely to experience cravings for high-fat foods and junk foods with excess sugar. Fiber sends a signal to your brain that says, “Okay, I’m good now. I don’t really feel like eating much anymore.” Even one apple can have this effect. Give it a try- when you get the midnight munchies or feel like snacking mid-morning or afternoon, have a banana and an apple. Feel better? You’re less likely to be hungry for hours after that and it’s all due to the water, natural fibers, and nutrients that plant foods contain. That box of cookies or vegan pastries won’t look as appealing if you fill your plate with fiber-rich plant foods.

Soluble fiber specifically, helps slow down the passage of food and ensure lower blood sugar and regularity at the same time. It’s a win-win! Go with oatmeal, apples, oranges, figs, bananas, pears, rye, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and squash when it comes to soluble fiber-rich foods.

Fewer cravings can lead to weight loss and ultimately a lean body for life.

4. Long Term Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women (even above breast cancer) and studies have shown that women and men who eat a fiber-rich diet experience 40% less of a chance for developing heart disease than those who don’t eat a high fiber diet. Animal foods, even those that are low in cholesterol such as fat-free dairy, still harm the body’s ability to fight off disease and they even contribute to heart disease directly. Fiber-rich plant foods also contain vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that enhance your health even further.

5. More Energy

Fiber-rich plant foods can also help give you more energy for a few reasons. When you’re not filling your diet with processed, sugary, and high-fat foods, you’ll naturally feel better and have more energy. With your blood sugar stable, your digestive system working at top notch levels, your heart working efficiently, and your cravings gone, you’ll develop a new zest for life that you never imagined was possible.

Eating more fiber-rich foods is as simple as eating three to four plants everytime you eat and adding in some plant-based protein and healthy fats to complete your meal.

What does that look like exactly?

Here are a some recipes that pack a variety of plant-based sources of fiber and many other nutrients into your diet: Steamed Sweet Potatoes with Wild Rice, Basil and Tomato Chili SauceWhole Grain Banana Date Nut MuffinsAsparagus and Carrot Indian Stir FryRaw Black Bread ( add some berries, hummus, apple butter, almond butter, or applesauce as a fiber-rich topping), Buckwheat Brown Rice Waffles -Gluten Free, and Falafel Waffles. Plus, there’s always green monsters and smoothies – they’re true life changers when it comes to health and wellness, indeed!

Image Source: Steamed Sweet Potatoes With Wild Rice, Basil, and Tomato Chili Sauce