Author: Rachel Fine
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Owner of To The Pointe Nutrition
Can we talk about protein and fiber? When compared to nutrients like carbs and fat, the marketed food-fame surrounding Protein and Fiber is unmatched with no intention of slowing down. Protein’s ability to repair, maintain, and rebuild muscle makes it an attractive choice for those seeking improved body composition. Fiber runs a competitive race to the top of the weight-loss diet chain with evidence like increased satiety; weight management, gut vitality, and digestive regularity. With too many benefits to name, why am I asking these heavy hitters to the stand for questioning? Well, even food’s most evidence-based and impressive nutrients can be exploited.
Walk through your local grocer. Packaged foods fill the aisles with claims shouting “High Protein” and “High Fiber.” While the widespread acceptance and awareness of eating foods high in these nutrients is a major win for public health, I find myself questioning many “high protein/high fiber” options that are making their way into the “health halo” marketplace. Is your high-fiber brownie-flavored “health” bar really benefiting your waistline? Is that high-protein ice cream truly a healthy alternative to your standard cone? Let’s go straight to the source.
First up: fiber.
There are two types of fiber: intact fibers are found in plant-based food sources like whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, and legumes. Processed fibers are those that have been extracted from plants and made in a lab (some examples include inulin, chicory root fiber, beta glucan, and guar gum). Since any type of fiber can count towards the amount of “fiber” listed on a Nutrition Facts Label, it’s hard to decipher which source you’re getting without studying the ingredient list. While research about these processed fibers remains ongoing, the benefits of getting your fiber from minimally processed plant-based sources are the best ticket for long-term weight management.
Next on the stand: Protein.
Overall, Americans need to worry less about this macronutrient. While protein deficiency and overall malnutrition remain global issues, most Americans are getting almost double the recommended protein requirements. Yes… even those of you following vegan and vegetarian diets! In terms of the evidence, getting more protein throughout your day can promote increases in muscle mass. However, this is only proven when the added protein is accompanied by resistance exercise. The next time you opt for the added protein powder, do so on a day when you’re hitting the gym in order to reap the benefits. In terms of your high-protein bars, cookies, and ice cream, make sure to check labels and ingredients. These highly processed sources are likely to be filled with processed fiber isolates, sodium, added sugars, and well… unnecessary calories. You’re better off satisfying your sweet tooth with the real deal. Choosing a “healthy version” of your favorite dessert will only leave you wanting more down the road.
What’s the bottom line?
Adding a variety of minimally processed plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, quinoa, and faro to your diet will ensure that you’re eating quality sources of fiber and protein. Top your oatmeal with nuts, add spinach to your omelet, and scoop quinoa into your salad. Since this advice is easier said than done, especially for those of us juggling over-booked schedules, read ingredient lists when it comes to packaged foods. Even a well-versed nutrition expert like myself can be stumped by the claims sporting titles like “Natural” and “Simple.”
Currently, my favorite way to get the biggest nutritional bang per bite is a bean-based pasta like Tolerant®. Combining nutrient-packed ingredients with efficiency is critical once dinnertime rolls around. The creative mix of veggies and legumes, which are both naturally high in protein and fiber, allows me to ensure a successful “#MeatlessMonday” any day of the week. Cook with an olive oil-based sauce to bring some healthy fats into the mix, and your family will enjoy a completely balanced meal in under 15 minutes!