Fiber: The Basis of a Plant-based Diet?

 

Such an important nutrient, but never the talk of the town. Actually it gets little attention on the large scale of “most talked about nutrition issues list”.  What is low in calories, prevents constipation, may lower the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and is generally underconsumed by people on the Standard American Diet (SAD)?  The answer? Fiber!!

Total fiber intake in U.S. children and adults is about 15 grams a day. When teaching nutrition, most students in my classes after diet analyses, were lucky if they went over 9 grams a day. The recommendation is 28 grams a day for women and 35 grams a day for men.

It was thought that fiber contributed little caloric value since it is not broken down by human digestive enzymes. Recent studies suggest that bacteria in the colon are able to break down many types of fibers to some extent (2 calories/gram). They excrete fatty acids as a waste product and then used as an energy source by the colon and the rest of the body. When you think about it, fiber may be responsible to a great extent for the health benefits of a plant-based diet.

There are two major classifications of dietary fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers slow down glucose absorption and reduces fat and cholesterol absorption. They are found in oats, barley, fruit pulp, dried beans and psyllium.  They are fibers that are not fibrous.

Insoluble fibers are particularly beneficial for preventing constipation. They are found more in wheat bran,  legumes, seeds, and the skin on fruits and vegetables.

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