If there is one word that describes how I eat, that describes what it means to be truly whole food plant-based for health reasons, that describes what Dr. Greger tells us in How Not to Die, that describes what Dr. Campbell tells us in Whole, that describes everything we need to know about nutrition --- that word would be fiber. To me, any diet, any nutritional study, any food that is not high in fiber is one to be limited or eliminated from my diet.
And if I could describe to someone else how to follow a whole food, plant-based diet in two words, those two words would be Eat Fiber. While it says the same thing, that's even simpler than Michael Pollan's admonition to "Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not Too Much." It can all be boiled down to eating fiber.
I'm going to go into the why of that in a little bit, but first let me ask that you just think about it for a minute. Think about why we say no oil because of the fat content of oil and yet, we consider nuts to be acceptable even though they too are very high in fat. What's the difference? The difference is nuts also are high in fiber. Oil has no fiber. So, oil has little in the way of health benefits whereas nut eaters have been found to live longer. Nuts have been found to help with weight loss and to improve endothelial function, just the opposite of what you would expect. Fiber is what is different between nuts and oils. You might argue that nuts have more nutrients, but that's not necessarily the case. Before I went WFPB, I used to use walnut oil on my salads, thinking it was nutritious. The nutrients are there, but we're less likely to absorb the nutrients from walnut oil than we are from walnuts themselves.
And that brings me to supplements. Most experts agree that we shouldn't waste our money on supplements. Supplements don't seem to have the efficacy that eating the food has. Why not? Again, I will argue that it's fiber. Supplements don't contain fiber. Whole plant-based foods do contain fiber. Fiber is what helps our bodies to absorb the nutrients in the foods.
Want another example? Think about fruit and sugar. Much has been made of the obesity epidemic in our country and how that correlates with the rise in sugar consumption. I'm going to offer another correlation in a minute, but for now, let's just stay with sugar. The problematic sugar is fructose, which is in sodas, candies and lots of processed and bakery-developed foods. But it's also in fruit. Eat or consume the fructose in sodas, candies and lots of processed and bakery-developed foods and you're likely to get fat. Eat the fructose in fruit and the same problem doesn't exist. I can attest to that because I've started eating five bananas in the morning and another two bananas in the evening plus a grapefruit and berries each morning, along with fruit for snacks and I've begun losing weight again. What's the difference? A can of soda doesn't have any fiber. Fruits do have fiber.
A key point though. I don't make smoothies with my fruit. I eat the whole fruit. I don't want to do anything that will remove or lessen the fiber content of my foods. So forget smoothies, juices and the likes. You might be ingesting the nutrition, but unless you're ingesting it with fiber, you're probably losing the nutrition.
I really came to realize this after reading the book 10% Human by Alanna Collen. I learned about that book on the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise this past month. Dr. Michael Klaper recommended it for further reading at the end of his talk on leaky gut syndrome. In the book, she talks about how our bodies are made up of trillions of bacterial microbes, and those microbes play a significant role in our lives. Interestingly, they can affect the way we think, what we eat, what illnesses we'll get and more.
But there are things that interfere with our microbes too or can cause us to have the wrong microbes. Think about antibiotics for example. Antibiotics came into being in the forties, and we've known since the fifties that antibiotics can be used to fatten farm animals. And guess what? That's exactly what farmers have done. They've pumped antibiotics into the animals and the animals have gotten fatter faster. In fact, chickens have gotten so fat in some cases, they can't stand on their own two legs. And the antibiotics that are fed to the animals ends up in our bodies because of our consumption of animals and the foods that are fertilized with their manure. Naturally, if other mammals get fat from consuming antibiotics, then it stands to reason that we would too.
So, that's the other correlation with our obesity epidemic. Our nation has gotten fatter as animals have been given antibiotics (and as our doctors have over-prescribed antibiotics for us). So, is sugar really the culprit behind the obesity epidemic or are antibiotics? I'm going to say neither. I'm going to say lack of fiber. And I'll point out that sugar has no fiber and antibiotics exacerbate the lack of fiber, thus making lack of fiber the direct cause and sugar and antibiotics being indirect causes.
Fiber is what feeds our good gut bacteria. In that sense, fiber is the ultimate prebiotic. And when we give our good bacteria the food they want to eat, then we are creating our own probiotics, which is good because the amount of good bacteria that you can consume in probiotics is minuscule compared to the number of bacteria in your gut. Our good bacteria are what keeps our weight in check. Our good bacteria are what break down our foods and ensure that our bodies get key nutrients needed. And fiber is what keeps our good bacteria fed and working on our behalf.
Most Americans today don't get anywhere near enough fiber. Fiber is nonexistent in most meats, oils, dairy products, processed foods, baked goods, desserts, etc. Even foods labelled as whole grain, such as breads or pastas that you might buy, are woefully short on fiber in many cases when compared to whole plant-based foods from the produce department.
Eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds is an act of eating lots of fiber. And that's an act of cultivating and growing the good bacteria in our bodies that will enhance our health and keep our weight in check. Eating other foods has the potential to destroy that gut biome and to place one in poorer health and to inhibit the nutrients in the foods eaten from making their way to places needed in the body.
So, in two words: Eat Fiber. Lots and lots of fiber. As I've always said, being WFPB is not about what we don't eat, it's about what we do eat. If you make sure that at least 95% of the calories you consume every day are high fiber foods, then the stuff we don't eat will not come up in your diet to any great extent. Instead of rejecting high fat foods, that can cause you to eliminate things like nuts and seeds that truly are good for you, think instead about eating high fiber foods and about how much fiber you can pack into your day. You'll be pleased you did.