Fiber is incredibly important. A type of carbohydrate, fiber—also known as roughage—is indigestible, but it plays a big role. It feeds gut-friendly bacteria, boosts digestive health, and helps lower cholesterol, to list a few of fiber’s health benefits. Plant foods are abundant in these indigestible carbs, so you would think that vegans get plenty of fiber. This is true in most circumstances, but some vegans may need to take extra care to ensure that they’re eating enough.
What is fiber?
The complex carbohydrates that you find in rice, bread, and pasta provide the body with energy, plus they contain vital vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds.
Fiber, on the other hand, provides no nutrients. It’s completely indigestible. But it makes up for it with a lot of other health benefits, Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RDN, and author of The Fiber Effect, tells VegNews.
“Fiber is important for keeping us regular as most of us know, but it’s also the foundation for a healthy gut,” she says. “A healthy gut leads to less acute and chronic inflammation, both in the gut and throughout the body.”
What does fiber do for the body?
Dietary fiber is more than just good at keeping gut microbiomes happy.
In studies, it has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, help manage blood sugar, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and certain forms of cancer. Because it helps you feel full, it can aid in weight management. It even plays a role in hormonal balance and mental health. Fiber also lowers the levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—in the body.
Generally, you only hear about two types of fiber, each of which plays a different role. Soluble fiber gels in the intestinal tract and has been shown to lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Insoluble fiber adds bulk and speeds the passage of waste through the gut.
But, there’s another notable type of fiber, Dandrea-Russert says. “Fermentable fibers, often referred to as prebiotics, are broken down by health-promoting gut bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids called butyrate, acetate, and propionate,” she explains. These help transport important minerals, like iron, calcium, and magnesium. Research suggests that it could help suppress chronic inflammation.
What happens when you don’t eat enough fiber?
Per the Food and Drug Administration, the daily value (DV) for fiber intake is 28 grams per day for adults who eat a 2,000-calorie diet. But, this can also vary by age and sex. But, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that 95 percent of American adults don’t get enough fiber.
Constipation is the most common symptom of not getting enough fiber, but it’s also a sign that you may be dehydrated. “Fiber is the foundation of a healthy gut,” says Dandrea-Russert. “Inadequate fiber can lead to gut dysbiosis, an imbalance of bacteria, which can cause short- and long-term inflammation.”
Because of this, inadequate fiber can lead to digestive issues, elevated cholesterol, blood sugar imbalances, mood swings, and other lifestyle diseases.
Do vegans need to worry about fiber?
Fiber is abundant in plant foods so generally, vegans don’t need to worry about not getting enough. That is, as long as you’re eating a variety of whole, plant-based foods, Dandrea-Russert says.
“Vegan processed foods like vegan meats and cheeses are better for human and planetary health compared to traditional meat and dairy, however, most of these products are made with the processed components of whole foods,” she explains.
“When whole foods are processed, fiber is often left behind,” Dandrea-Russert continues. For example, a lot of vegan cheeses are made from coconut oil, which is extracted from the whole coconut. But, while three ounces of unprocessed coconut meat contains 8 grams of fiber, the same amount of coconut oil contains no fiber at all.
That isn’t to say that you should quit coconut-based vegan cheese. After all, it’s ideal for comfort foods like grilled cheese. Enjoy it in moderation and seek ways to add benefits to these foods, such as using whole grain bread instead of white. And if you’re choosing vegan meat, just check the label for its fiber content.
Which vegan foods have the most fiber?
All plant foods contain fiber, but some are better than others. Here are the top vegan sources of fiber to add to your diet:
Legumes are a powerhouse food. They’re good for heart health and many of them are a good source of iron and calcium.
For a good all-around legume, try edamame, which contains 8 grams of fiber per cup, says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, and the author of Recipe for Survival.
“They’re not only high in fiber but also in protein at 17 grams per cup,” she says. “Many older adults worry about getting enough protein—well, this can give you both protein and fiber and is very filling and healthy.”
Generally, all legumes are good sources of fiber, and eating a variety of them is a good way to add different vitamins and minerals to your diet. According to USDA data, a half-cup serving of the cooked legumes listed below will give you the following amount of fiber.
- Black beans: 7 grams
- Brown lentils: 13 grams
- Green and red lentils: 10 grams
- Kidney beans: 6 grams
- Split peas: 8 grams
2 Whole grains
Regularly eating whole grains may reduce your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.
Whole grains contain more fiber than different types of processed grains, such as white rice, white pasta, and white bread, which have had their nutritious outer layers removed in order to extend shelf-life and improve the taste. For example, a cup of white rice contains 0.6 grams of fiber while a cup of brown rice contains 3 grams.
Oats are an especially good source of fiber, Hunnes says. “This is a really great high-fiber food to eat because it has both soluble and insoluble fiber, aka roughage which can really help keep us regular. So, you get the benefits of both fibers in this really healthy food,” she continues.
In addition to that, the following whole grains are also good sources of fiber. Per one-cup serving, they contain:
- Barley, hulled: 17 grams
- Bulgur: 4 grams
- Popcorn (100 grams): 15 grams
- Quinoa: 5 grams
3 Nuts and seeds
Even nuts and seeds, a wonderful source of healthy fats, protein, and nutrients, contain fiber. Especially chia seeds, which are great for overnight oats as well as chia pudding.
“Chia seeds have so many health benefits,” says Hunnes. “They’re high in fiber and can retain nearly 10 times their weight in water, which means they can really help with hydration and regularity.”
But, you’ll find fiber in all nuts and seeds. A quarter-cup serving of the following options contains:
- Almonds: 4 grams
- Flaxseed, ground: 11 grams
- Pistachios: 3 grams
- Pumpkin seeds: 3 grams
- Sunflower seeds: 3 grams
- Walnuts: 2 grams
All fruit is a good source of fiber. But, one of the best sources of this essential non-nutrient may surprise you: avocado. A medium-sized avocado contains around 10 grams of fiber. Plus, this toast-topping fruit contains a wealth of other nutrients, including carotenoids, potassium, and heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Avocados aren’t the only fiber-rich fruit, though. Any of the following are good ways to add bulk to your diet:
- Apples (one medium fruit): 3 grams
- Bananas (one medium fruit): 3 grams
- Blueberries (half-cup serving): 2 grams
- Pears (one medium fruit): 6 grams
- Raspberries (half-cup serving): 4 grams
Eating your vegetables is a great way to make sure that you’re getting enough fiber.
Raw beets are especially good for digestion, not just because they contain 3.8 grams of fiber per cup, but also because they contain betaine, says Hunnes. This digestive enzyme inhibits Candida, a fungal overgrowth, preventing it from taking over the small intestine. “It can help with regularity as well,” she adds.
Here are some other fiber-rich vegetables to add to your diet:
- Artichokes (one medium): 7 grams
- Broccoli (one cup): 2 grams
- Carrots (one medium): 2 grams
- Cauliflower, raw (one cup, chopped): 2 grams
- Chinese broccoli (aka gai lan, one cup): 2 grams
- Pumpkin, canned (one cup): 7 grams
- Spinach (one cup): 4 grams
- Sweet potatoes (one medium): 4 grams
- White potatoes (one medium): 5 grams
Your options for fiber-rich foods aren’t limited to the above. Practically all whole, plant-based foods will add to your dietary intake, so remember to switch up what you add to your plate.