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The Importance of Fiber and How to Get More of it in Your Diet

A healthy diet includes a healthy amount of fiber. And, thankfully for healthy eaters, foods that are the highest in fiber are all plant-based as well. Fiber is essential to the body’s digestive functions, and helps rid the body of toxins and build up in the intestines and bowels. It’s a type of carbohydrate that passes through the body without being digested, but is, in fact, essential to the digestive process. Most Americans do not, however eat enough fiber every day.

There are two types of fibers; insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber prevents constipation by fermenting and creating bacteria which makes it bulky. Soluble fibers absorb water and help wastes move more quickly through the body. It is this kind of fiber which is related to lowering cholesterol levels, and slower digestion, which is important for stable energy levels and controlling hunger.

Fiber and weight loss are linked, because fiber helps you feel full longer. As it slows down digestion and moves through the system, fibrous food will keep you full and, hopefully, away from unhealthy snacks. In addition, fibrous foods are usually rough or bulky, so they will fill you up quickly, making over-eating a bit of a stretch.

The Harvard school of Health recommends approximately 14 grams of fiber for every 100o calories eaten. If you’re diet is high in processed foods or white flour, you might not be getting that recommended daily intake. Here are some food items that would immediately boost your fiber levels:

1. Beans. All sorts of legumes such as beans, chick peas, peas, and lentils are super rich in fiber. They can also be added to all sorts of meals as dips, baked bean side dishes, and in vegetable plates. Legumes can also be the centre of meals as chillies, curries, or even as a veggie burger. If you’re going for gold, kidney beans have the highest fiber levels of the whole bean family.

2. Raw fruit. Raw fruit is a high fiber source, especially when eaten with the peals and skins. Fruits are also high in a variety of vitamins and minerals, and are great for everything from snacks to desserts.

3. Dried fruit. Dried fruit has the added fiber benefit of having its moisture removed, meaning it has higher levels of carbohydrates and fibers than fresh fruit. The trade-off here, though, is a loss in the vitamins that make fresh fruit so good for you. If it’s fiber you’re after, dried fruit is a good option, as it is easily transportable, and the serving size for the same amount of fiber is half that of raw fruit.

4. Vegetables. Vegetables are a super easy one, and every vegan is hopefully already getting their daily dose. For information on which ones contain the most fiber, click here.

5. Grains. Grains that are in their natural form, such as brown rice and whole wheat are much higher in fiber than their white alternatives. So opt for whole wheat and multigrain when possible, but also mix up the grains in your diet; add barley to soups, and have oatmeal for breakfast.

6. Popcorn. Three cups of popcorn has 2 grams of fiber. So head to your health store, get some popcorn, and consider snacking on this. It’s super easy to make at home, and much healthier than a microwave variety.

7. Seeds and nuts. One ounce of almonds has three grams of fiber. So get snacking on this super food! Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and all types of nuts are also great sources of fiber.

Having a list of foods is great, many of which are probably already present in a vast majority of vegan diets, but there are still ways of optimizing consumption. Just be careful; if you would like to increase your fiber intake, do it slowly and drink lots of water to avoid abdominal pain and digestive complications, which are the result of eating too much fiber too quickly. Just remember you need a balance, as an excess of anything is never a good idea. Without enough water, eating too much fiber can also cause constipation.

To make sure you aren’t throwing away useful fiber, try not peeling  your veggies and fruits, as it is the peels that have the most fiber. If you buy organic, give them a good wash before eating the peels. If you don’t buy organic, removing the peels sometimes is a good idea, as it is the outside of the produce that will have come in contact with pesticides. So, if you’re snacking on an apple, don’t cut it into peel-ess wedges, and leave those skins on your potatoes.

Another great way to increase fiber intake is to eat fruits rather than to drink them. If you’d like to up your fiber intake, drinking more water is a good idea too. So, drink a glass of water and eat an orange, rather than drinking one glass of orange juice. In fact, raw oranges might just be one of the best foods to introduce to your diet for optimal fiber intake.

In terms of snacking, eat nuts and trail mixes, make your own popcorn at home, and try to not eat processed fast foods, as they tend to contain no finer, only quickly digested sugars and carbohydrates that keep you wanting more. Along that same line, when preparing meals at home, remember that brown rice, barley, and whole wheat are much better options than white flours and grains.

Image Source: Migle/Flickr