Fiber: The Forgotten Nutrient.
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
In the past 6 years of being 99% whole foods plant-based vegan, the most common question I am asked has to be "What are your protein sources?" or some variation of that. If the person is well intentioned, I don't mind answering it, even if I've heard it a million times. I'm always in favor of educating others, as should every one be in this lifestyle. But after answering their questions on what I eat, I ask them about what they eat. My question to them is "Where do you get your Fiber?" They always look at me quizzically.
In my opinion, it's the forgotten and sometimes taboo nutrient. Fiber is incredibly important for overall health and by definition, is found only in plants. Ironically, 97% of us ARE getting enough protein, but 97% of us are NOT getting enough fiber. Most people know fiber's role in digestion but it also plays other key roles in our health, including cholesterol regulation, blood sugar control and appetite regulation.
Digestion: Let's be frank, fiber helps you poop regularly. It helps foods move along the digestive tract more quickly, which is a good thing in this case. We want foods to stick around long enough for our bodies to extract the nutrients, but not long enough for the fecal matter to start affecting our intestinal cells in a negative way, which is what happens in the case of colon cancer. In other words, if you're not having a bowel movement AT LEAST once a day, you're not eating enough fiber and we have a problem, Houston. And because fiber is often associated with poop, it may be uncomfortable for people to talk about or think about. But it really shouldn't be. Let's be real and practical, I'd rather be educated about fiber and poop than be constipated.
Satiety: In the scope of a Whole Foods Plant-Based lifestyle, fiber is also a main player in regulating satiety. It tells your body when to stop eating. Your stomach has 2 main types of receptors that communicate with your brain; stretch receptors and nutrient receptors. The fiber and water found in plant foods trigger those stretch receptors at just the right time to tell your body to stop eating when you've had enough. Hyper concentrated forms of calories like fatty, sugary and refined snacks have tons of calories, little to no water and no fiber, thus, we're forced to overeat these food-like products just to feel satisfied. This is how we gain weight. Along the same lines, fiber also slows the process of digestion in your stomach which causes a slower raise in blood glucose and subsequent slower insulin response. These are very important elements for overall health and healthy weight.
The Whole Package: I still can't figure out why someone would want to take a fiber supplement, i.e Metamucil, when all they need to do is eat an apple or a banana or some brown rice. Is it that they don't know where fiber can be found? Is it laziness? Is it fear of carbohydrates? The added benefit of eating real food and obtaining the fiber that way is that you get all of the other beneficial elements of that food along with the fiber, like vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, phytochemicals and antioxidants. An emphasis on protein, which means copious amounts of meat, eggs, fish, dairy and cheese, is a naturally fiber-deficient diet.
We have to audit our foods and our rationale for why we eat them. Tradition, personal or mental comfort or media emphasis, frankly, aren't good reasons when our focus should also be on health. Why do we emphasize protein so much? That question and topic is means for another blog post, but after learning about this for 6+ years, engaging in competitive cycling and triathlons and educating others with their best interest at heart, I know with 100% certainty that we don't need to be emphasizing protein as much as we do, nor do we need to be obtaining it from animal products. So instead of focusing on protein, how about we focus on fiber. If we consciously tried to take in as much fiber in a day in the form of whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, we would be 100 times healthier than we are now. We don't need as much protein as we're meant to believe. What we need are foods packed with natural nutrition, and most foods that are relatively high in protein, aren't.