Fiber, what it is, and why it's so important!

Fiber is only found in plant-based foods. It is the part of these healthy foods that doesn’t break down and digest, and this has a positive and important impact on our health! Fiber is like a sponge inside your body, it soaks up the bad stuff in your digestive tract and makes sure it gets eliminated.

When most people think of fiber, they associate it with one of the most common ways to up fiber intake…eating wholesome whole grains. Oat bran, for example, is high in soluble fiber (a type of fiber which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels) and wheat, corn, and rice bran are high in insoluble fiber, which helps prevent constipation. Keep in mind though that the best way to increase your fiber intake is to get fiber from many different plant-based sources, including not only whole grains, but legumes, berries, and vegetables too. In fact, just one cup of beans contains the same amount of bran as the grains, which can be very important for people with gluten sensitivity.

The truth is, temptation sets in all too often in our busy society, mostly because we know what we should eat, but everyday commitments like work, exercise, and children’s activities take over so we find ourselves looking for a quick and easy solution. Food from restaurants is addictive… salty, sugary, high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods that negatively affect our health and take years off our life. The key is to plan ahead. If you focus on peeling vegetables and getting your weeknight menu ready over the weekend, you can incorporate more real food that is readily available to nourish your body instead of ordering out. Eating whole food is so important – you can quite literally heal your body with every bite. Being an advocate for smart nutrition isn’t always easy. It’s been a passion of mine since I became a mother, a wife, and an informed consumer. Perhaps the most important part of this whole plant-based revolution is to educate our children about how to make healthy choices too.

Legumes are a particular class of vegetables that include beans, peas and lentils, and this recipe is a great way to tastefully incorporate fiber from both vegetables and legumes. Beans are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals including folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Incorporating legumes into your diet can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure too.

This recipe can be made quickly (if you plan ahead) and provides a healthy option for a weeknight when everyone is busy and hungry. You can use canned black beans or dried black beans. Canned beans offer the same amount of nutrients as their dry counterparts, but they have a higher sodium content. When shopping for canned beans, look for low-sodium varieties and rinse them well before using. You can store dried beans in your pantry for up to 12 months. To prepare dried beans, soak them in cold water overnight; drain, then simmer for at least 2-3 hours or until tender.

To save time, I cook the sweet potatoes in the microwave for 8-9 minutes. You can also cook it in the over, about 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes depending on the size of your sweet potatoes. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, chop a medium red onion and saute in braggs or broth until translucent. Add salt and pepper, then add the inside of the sweet potato and the black beans. If you used canned beans you can skip the salt, but if you used dry beans, then add a dash of salt and pepper. Incorporate your chopped greens into the mixture last.

Now that spring is just around the corner, you can incorporate any local green in this recipe. Some examples include Swiss chard, collard greens, kale, radish or beet leaves. Use spinach of course, but being that spinach is mild, I would recommend serving a side salad of spinach or arugula and using the heartier greens in the burrito mixture. Go ahead, pass over the sweets and eat some more fiber! Your body will thank you for it!

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1 large sweet potato (or 2 small ones)
1 can of low-sodium black beans or 1 cup of dried beans, soaked overnight
1 vidalia onion, chopped
2 cups of chopped greens (i.e.: chard, collards, kale, or even spinach)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
whole grain soft taco shells
enchilada or tomato sauce for serving
shredded cheddar cheese (vegetarian option)
sour cream or greek yogurt (vegetarian option)
cashew cream sauce (vegan option: soak cashews overnight and emulsify with lemon juice in a high speed blender such as a vitamix)

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Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burrito

Preparation: Cook the sweet potato for about 8 minutes in the microwave. In the meantime, sauté onion for 10 minutes or until translucent, add minced garlic, and chopped greens. Fold in black beans and sweet potato to the onion mixture and combine well. Fill soft tacos and layer in a baking dish with sauce and cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Top with sour cream if using and serve with rice and/or salad.

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