by Anna Debenham & Alex Parker, The Biting Truth
Tired of diets promising health wonders and miracle cures that fail to eventuate? It’s time to say goodbye to the era of ‘low-everything’ diets and make room for the plant-based lifestyle!
There is growing evidence of the powers of plant-based diets (i.e. high in fibre, vitamins and minerals) on the health of your gut and your whole body, as well as reducing our risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease by 20-25% 1-6. Following a diet that looks after your gut is imperative. After all, it’s where your food enters your body! Your gut helps you absorb nutrients, keep your immune system strong and prevent certain cancers. As well as your gut health, dietary fibre has profound impacts on your mood, fatigue, stress, mental health, weight and skin.
6 out of 10 Aussies are not eating enough fibre, so most of us could benefit from adding a little more to our diet! If you are worried that this might mean giving up meat, poultry, fish and dairy foods, then rest assured you don’t have to become vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet!
Sounds like a winner? Let’s introduce you to this golden way of eating:
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is one that focuses on including a variety of foods that are loaded with fibre – think fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Getting enough fibre is important, but eating a combination of different types of fibre is just as essential for good digestive health.
- Soluble fibre: helps lower cholesterol and slow digestion. Eat more legumes, oats, barley, nuts, fruits and veggies.
- Insoluble fibre: promotes regular bowel movements. Eat more whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies.
- Resistant starch: act as food for our healthy gut bacteria (potentially the most important type). Eat more legumes (lentils, beans), whole grains, potatoes and firm bananas.
Good Sources of Dietary Fibre
Legumes (chickpeas, red kidney beans, four bean mix, lentils):
Legumes contain a type of fibre called ‘prebiotic fibre’, which feed our good gut bacteria and produce short chain fatty acids. Prebiotic fibre nourishes your intestinal cells and helps to push along the all-important fibre through your gut. Legumes may cause you to feel gassy, or bloated, but this is completely normal (did you know men fart on average 12 times a day and women 7 times). Start introducing legumes in small portions and gradually increase over the next few weeks (and remember to drink plenty of water to help push things along!). This way, you let your gut bacteria gradually adjust to your high(er)-fibre diet without any surprising changes in your bowel habits.
Grains (, oats, barley, rye, whole grain bread, brown rice, bran):
Cutting carbs has been shown to upset gut flora, so the paleo diet is out and grains are back in! In particular, fibre from grain foods has been shown to benefit our overall health, as they contain polysaccharides which provide bulk and absorb water to promote normal bowel movements. Many grains are also a good source of resistant starch (remember this is the food for our gut bacteria).
Fruits and veg:
Fruit and vegetables contain simple sugars which draw water into the gut to assist movement of fibre and prevent constipation. Rather than building your meals around protein try building them around your vegetables. Then add your grains and or legumes, top with crunchy nuts or seeds and finally add your meat, dairy, fish or eggs.
Are you getting enough?
A high fibre diet should give you a score of 4 or 5 on the Bristol Stool Chart. If yours is less than 4 then you may need more fibre in your diet.
6 Ways to Boost Your Fibre
- In your next spag bol or lasagna, swap 50% minced meat for 50% lentils, or for black beans in your beef patties and meatballs.
- Mix up your grains. Wheat is the most commonly eaten grain, but have you tried quinoa, spelt, teff, barley, rye, amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, millet or sorghum? These will keep things interesting in your plant-based routine.
- Choose whole grain breads and cereals instead of refined varieties.
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies.
- Enjoy a handful of nuts and seeds as a snack.
- Enjoy a potato salad for a dose of resistant starch
We are huge advocates of plant-based eating, as it encourages you to eat loads of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – all while still allowing for meats and other animal products. Following a plant based diet that is high in fibre is associated with improved digestive health as well as other health benefits. The type of fibre matters, which is why it’s important to enjoy variety (soluble, insoluble, resistant).
1.McMacken M, Shah S. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology : JGC. 2017;14(5):342-54.
2.Medina-RemÓn A, Kirwan R, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Estruch R. Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Diseases, Asthma, and Mental Health Problems. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2016:00-.
3.Shang X, Scott D, Hodge AM, English DR, Giles GG, Ebeling PR, et al. Dietary protein intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study and a meta-analysis of prospective studies. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2016.
4.Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116(12):1970-80.
5.Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A, Sofi F. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2017;57(17):3640-9.
6.Harland J, Garton L. An update of the evidence relating to plant-based diets and cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and overweight. Nutrition Bulletin. 2016;41(4):323-38.