If you’re trying to improve your health by making changes to your diet, it might be time to shift your focus. In an attempt to “fix up” their eating, people often start by restricting foods they believe are unhealthy – and that’s not a bad thing. However, it’s not the whole answer. You might be consuming less saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium, but if your diet remains primarily based on processed foods, you may not be achieving the results you want because you are lacking nutrient-rich foods that are essential to your health.
Recent research suggests that working to include nutrient-dense, high-fiber, plant-based foods may be more beneficial to your health than restricting saturated fat and cholesterol. Your best bet? Try to do both! But definitely don’t fall into the trap of just cutting back while neglecting to emphasize the foods that are good for you.
One of the many benefits of plant-based foods is their fiber content. Fiber, a substance found only in plants, is a bulky material that does not get digested by your body. Fiber is often divided into 2 categories:
Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber helps material through your digestive system. Good sources are whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and the skins of fruits and vegetables.
Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel and it can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. You can find soluble fiber in oats, barley, rye, beans, peas, brown rice, apples, citrus fruits, and most fruits and vegetables.
For maximum health benefits, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.
Why is fiber important?
There are many reasons why you should make sure to include adequate fiber in your diet. Here are some ways that fiber helps out:
• Keeps your digestive system healthy: Consuming adequate fiber can help prevent constipation and ease diarrhea because it keeps food moving through your digestive system and absorbs excess water. Getting plenty of fiber also lowers your risk of digestive disorders.
• Aids in weight control: Because high-fiber foods generally take more time to chew and help fill you up, they can make you feel satisfied longer. High-fiber foods are also often low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals. Including adequate high-volume, low-calorie foods in your diet is an important component in any successful weight loss program.
• Protects against diseases: Fiber has been found to play a role in the prevention of diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
How do I include more fiber in my diet?
• Eat more fruits and vegetables. You can have them raw or cooked, but try to eat them with the skins or peels on. Some great sources are pears, blackberries, apples, peaches, oranges, and raspberries.
• Adding chopped or dried fruit to your favorite dishes is an easy way to consume more fiber. You can include apricots, prunes, or craisins to yogurt, cookies, muffins, cereal, and even pancakes, or you can enjoy dried fruit alone as a snack.
• Go for whole grain products. Try whole grain bread, pasta, and brown rice, and choose whole grain cereals.
• Use ready-to-eat vegetables like frozen broccoli and baby carrots.
• Snack on whole-wheat crackers and pretzels, low-fat popcorn, and nuts and seeds.
• Add a spoonful of bran to your cereal or yogurt.
• Use beans, peas, and lentils in soups, salads, and dips.
• Check food labels. If the Daily Value for fiber is 15% or higher, it is a good source of fiber.
An important rule for healthy eating is to never allow yourself to get bored! Fruits and vegetables come in so many different colors, shapes, and textures. Make the most of the new season’s produce and look out for plant-based foods in the latest recipes. Enjoy focusing on what’s good for you!