You need protein AND you need fiber. Unfortunately, it’s easy to concentrate so much on meeting your protein requirements that you fall short on fiber. It’s easy to forget about fiber since it’s not one of the three macronutrients. Fiber isn’t absorbed, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have health benefits.
Most people fall short of the 20 to 35 grams they need each day. Why is this a problem? Fiber has too many benefits to ignore. Soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity so your blood sugar and insulin level stay better controlled. Insoluble fiber is a source of roughage to keep your bowels moving regularly. Fiber is also satiating so you’re less likely to overeat or crave an unhealthy snack when you eat a fiber-rich diet.
Why not “double up” and boost your fiber and protein intake with protein-rich foods that also contain fiber? You can do this by consuming more plant-based protein sources. The combination of protein and fiber will fill you up quickly so you eat less. Here are some protein-rich, high-fiber foods to enjoy.
Beans and Lentils
Who says protein has to come from meat? A cup of lentils supplies 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber. No wonder this leguminous plant food is so filling and satisfying. Lentils are also versatile. Here are some ways to enjoy the fiber-rich health benefits of lentils:
Puree them and use them to thicken soups
Use pureed lentils in baked goods for added protein and fiber
Puree lentils and use them to make a homemade veggie burger
Use them in place of meat in wraps and tortillas
Sprinkle cooked lentils on a salad
Enjoy them as a side dish with a dollop of sour cream
What about beans? Soybeans are highest in protein with around 29 grams of protein per cup and 10 grams of fiber. Most other beans have between 13 and 18 grams of protein per cup and 12 to 16 grams of fiber. When you get your protein from meat you get no fiber. Beans are high in carbohydrates but they’re slowly-absorbed so you get a low glycemic response. In fact, a study published in JAMA showed diabetics that ate a legume-rich diet enjoyed better blood sugar control and a lower risk for heart disease.
Here’s what you may not know about beans. Red beans, including red kidney beans and pinto beans, as well as black beans top the list of antioxidant-rich foods. Beans pack lots of nutritional punch. As if that isn’t enough, a study showed people who eat a bean-rich diet tend to weigh less. Fiber, protein, antioxidants – you get it all with beans. Plus, beans are as versatile as lentils and can be pureed and added to baked goods, soups, etc.
Nuts and Seeds
There’s a lot to love about nuts. Nuts are a good source of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. A half-cup of most nuts averages around 10 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. Of course, you need to monitor your munching since nuts are also high in calories.
Which nuts are best from a health standpoint? Each nut has its strengths. Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E while Brazil nuts are an exceptional source of the trace mineral selenium. Pecans rank high on the antioxidant scale while walnuts stand out for the omega-3 fats they contain. Pistachios are the lowest in calories. You can enjoy 48 pistachios for around 160 calories.
Despite their high-calorie content, some studies show the fat in nuts isn’t all absorbed. In fact, you absorb only about 70% of the calories from the nuts you eat. There are more good things about nuts. Some studies show nut eaters are less likely to gain weight. Plus, enjoying nuts in moderation may lower your risk for heart disease based on current research.
What about seeds? Mix sunflower seeds into your salad for extra protein and fiber. An ounce of roasted sunflower seeds adds crunch along with 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. It’s a “sneaky” way to get more fiber.
High-Protein Whole Grains
Most whole grain foods are relatively high in fiber and protein. Quinoa, although technically a seed, stands out among the “grains” for its high-quality protein. It’s a complete protein that has all the essential amino acids your body needs but can’t make. Each cup of cooked quinoa has 18 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber. You can easily increase your fiber and protein intake by substituting quinoa for rice or pasta. It also makes a tasty hot breakfast cereal that has a slightly nutty taste. Of course, you can sprinkle on extra nuts for even more protein.
Amaranth, also a pseudo-grain, is another good source of protein and fiber. It too makes a tasty hot breakfast cereal. Like nuts and beans, most grains are rich in antioxidants and minerals like iron, magnesium, and calcium. There are other reasons to get a portion of your protein from whole grains. A study showed consuming 2.5 or more servings of whole grains per week was linked with a 20% lower risk of heart disease compared to consuming only small amounts of whole grains.
The Bottom Line
There are advantages to getting some of your protein from plant-based, fiber-rich foods like nuts, whole grains, and legumes. Meat may be a good source of protein but it’s devoid of fiber. Diets rich in red meat, especially processed meat, are also linked with a greater risk for heart disease. By adding more high-fiber protein foods to your diet it’ll be easier to meet your fiber requirements and enjoy all the benefits of a fiber-rich diet.
Self Nutrition Data.
WebMD. “Beans: Protein-Rich Superfoods”
Live Science. “It’s OK to Go a Little Nuts: Some May Have Fewer Calories Than Thought”
JAMA Internal Medicine. “Effect of Legumes as Part of a Low Glycemic Index Diet on Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus”
Am J Clin Nutr June 2009 vol. 89 no. 6 1913-1919.
Harvard Health Publications. “Eating nuts promotes cardiovascular health”
World’s Healthiest Foods website.
Science Daily. “Health Benefits Of Whole Grains Confirmed”
Science Daily. “New link between heart disease and red meat: New understanding of cardiovascular health benefits of vegan, vegetarian diets”