For those that practice a plant-based, low-carb, and healthy fat diet — especially if you’re new to the plant-based world — you are most likely, unknowingly, boosting your fiber intake. Plant-based foods are naturally fiber-rich, which is one of the many benefits of incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet.
Of course, with any nutritional endeavor, it’s all about balance.
The appropriate amount of fiber is incredibly beneficial for you. It feeds your gut microbiota, keeps your digestive system regular, and keeps you feeling full for a longer period of time aiding in healthy weight management. Yet, too much fiber in your diet, or increasing your fiber too drastically, has the potential to cause uncomfortable side effects including gas, bloating, upset stomach, constipation, and even weight gain. Therefore, in order to find the right balance for your body, it’s important to understand what fiber is, it’s plentiful health benefits, and how to tell and rectify if there’s too much fiber in your diet!
What is Fiber?
The term “fiber” is a blanket term that refers to a plant-based substance. Yet, “fiber” is broken down even further into “dietary fiber,” the substance that we consume, and even further into insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber helps move food waste through the digestive system and is found in “whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.” Soluble fiber refers to the dissolvable form of dietary fiber. Found in “oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus, fruits, carrots,” and barley, soluble fiber has been shown to boost a healthy heart by lowering blood cholesterol, as well as reducing glucose levels.
Benefits of Fiber
Fiber is an incredibly important part of a well-balanced diet. As mentioned, fiber not only keeps your digestive rhythms humming a natural tune, but recent studies have illuminated this substance’s potential to boost the health of your gut microbiota, maintain a healthy weight, and even avoid conditions such as diabetes.
Lower Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
Both cholesterol and blood sugar play integral roles in the development of insulin resistance and possibly diabetes. Diabetes refers to a health condition that is triggered by either diet or predisposition and is caused by malfunctioning insulin hormones, which results in high blood glucose (too much sugar in your blood). Soluble fiber acts two-fold in controlling cholesterol and blood sugar levels. First, soluble fiber has been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels, referred to as low-density lipoproteins (LDL), as well as lower inflammation and blood pressure. Secondly, soluble fiber slows “the absorption of sugar” and improves “blood sugar levels.”
Improves Bowel Health
While we all seek to maintain regular digestive rhythms, for those of us that suffer from digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, it’s a daily struggle. Due to fiber’s incredible digestive powers — by adding bulk to your food waste and allowing it to move through your intestines quicker — it has been shown as a successful aid in reducing bowel discomfort and improving overall bowel health. A high fiber diet may help alleviate digestive discomfort, reduce the risk of hemorrhoids, and help you avoid more serious conditions such as diverticular disease of the colon.
Maintain Healthy Weight
Whether you’re trying to shed a few unwanted pounds or simply want to maintain your current weight, a fiber-rich diet is a great way to achieve your goal! Fiber aids in this endeavor in three different ways. First, foods rich in dietary fiber keep you feeling full longer, which means you are more likely to consume fewer calories. This brings us to number two, lower caloric intake. Foods with a higher fiber content also are generally less in calories, yet offer the same amount of food. Lastly, fiber-rich foods take longer for your body to digest, which leads to longer satiation.
What Happens When You Consume Too Much Fiber
We know that fiber is important. We also know that fiber is very rich in a plant-based diet. This leads to one of the most challenging aspects of transitioning into plant-based eating: balance. The traditional American diet is lacking in high-fiber foods. Therefore, when switching to a plant-based diet, it’s inevitable that you will be consuming higher levels of fiber that your body isn’t necessarily used to.
So, what happens when you overload your body with fiber?
Interestingly enough, too much fiber can cause some of the same digestive symptoms that a diet lacking in fiber experiences. These symptoms include bloating, gas, and constipation, which, if left unattended, can lead to nausea, cramps, and more series of bowel health issues. While appropriate fiber intake changes based upon a variety of aspects — such as age, weight, and gender — the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a minimum daily intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men, while not exceeding 70 grams per day.
This may seem like an easy goal to meet, yet, per Medical News Today, “A healthy diet of oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich and fruit or vegetables for lunch, and a whole-grain dinner with lentils can easily reach that threshold.” Looking at this daily meal plan, it’s a perfect plant-based dieter’s day, therefore, make sure you’re looking at all of your meals with both fiber-rich and fiber-low lenses.
Swiss Chard and Almond Ricotta Spelt Galettes/One Green Planet
One of the easiest ways to overdue fiber on a plant-based, processed food-free diet is via snacking. Snack options include easy to access, yet filling food products, such as nuts, apples, flaxseed, and fruit. Therefore, focus on full meals! A balanced meal is the easiest way to avoid snacking, while also being diligent about the volume of fiber-rich food you’re eating. Here are a few fiber-balanced meals to get you started.
Apple, Parsnip, and Fennel Soup/One Green Planet
If you’re new to plant-based eating, get on the soup wagon! Not only are they an incredibly diverse meal template, but soups can be made in bulk and frozen easily. When it comes to balancing nutrition, soup recipes are the easiest to manipulate. As long as you have a tasty veggie-stock to work from, you can basically add whatever your favorite foods are! A great balanced soup to start with is this Apple, Parsnip, and Fennel Soup. While offering a dose of fiber from the apple, fennel, and parsnip, this recipe also incorporates healthy fats from the extra-virgin olive oil and hazelnuts, antioxidants from the fresh herbs, and plenty of intestine-friendly liquid from the broth and lemon juice.
Raw Mango Coconut Basil Wrap/One Green Planet
Much like plant-based soups, wraps offer many of the same benefits. They are easily transportable for work lunches or traveling. As long as you have the base wrap settled, you can change the recipe innards to meet your fiber-balanced goals. Plus, you can quickly make a bulk supply and either freeze or refrigerate! The simpler the better, such as this incredibly simple Mango Coconut Basil Wrap. With only three ingredients — mango, young coconut meat, and fresh basil — this recipe can be built upon with more fiber-rich foods or left as is for a low-fiber content meal of the day!
Chocolate Peanut Butter and Raspberry Chia Jam Cups/One Green Planet
Dessert may be one of the easiest meals to cut down on your fiber intake. Instead of focusing on fiber-rich foods for your sweet treat, try focusing on more antioxidant heavy food items such as dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is a wonderful source of antioxidants, while also providing a slew of minerals and vitamins and a lower dose of fiber. When choosing your cacao, make sure to select at least 70 percent or higher, such as this 3-Ounce 88 % Endangered Species Panther, Dark Chocolate Bar. The higher the better! Either enjoy your dark chocolate bar as is or make a delightful dessert such as these Chocolate Peanut Butter and Raspberry Chia Jam Cups that are packed full of rich cacao, protein (chia seeds), and healthy fat (coconut milk).
It’s never easy to make a big change, yet switching to a plant-based diet comes with so many wonderful benefits! To help balance out your new way of eating, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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