Learn The Basics of Nutrition

Goal 3: Understanding The Facts Around Fiber, Cholesterol, and Saturated Fats

Topic 1: A Few Words About Fiber

Simply put, fiber helps us poop and improves nutrient absorption. There are two types and they both keep us regular: Soluble and Insoluble fiber.

  • Soluble Fiber: Soluble fiber is a gel like substance produced in your intestines when high fiber foods such as oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables are consumed. In 2014 when I took my first nutrition course, I was amazed when my instructor informed my class that soluble fiber decreases the absorption of cholesterol and sugar. Why didn’t anyone tell me this growing up? Turns out it was not something well known… until today. Finally, there are commercials reporting fiber slows sugar absorption and improves cholesterol… 6 years after I learned about this amazing benefit.
  • Insoluble Fiber: Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and is found in the same foods that contain soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps food pass through the stomach and intestines at a faster rate, and can prevent constipation.

As you transition from an unbalanced diet to a balanced diet you may notice a change in your stool. As you begin to increase fiber you may notice 1 of 3 things, you are having constipation, you are having diarrhea, or you are having a perfect stool that is soft and smooth like soft serve ice cream! When eating a high fiber diet, you have to make sure it is well balanced, if it is not consider the following:

  1. If you are constipated: You are not drinking enough water. This is a rare side effect of transitioning to a high fiber diet because if you are eating fruits and vegetables you will absorb lots of water from these foods, which will prevent constipation from occurring. If you do become constipated you are probably eating more grains than fruits and vegetables, and need to increase your plant foods which are high in water content. As you read through the planning section you will see that 6-7 servings of fruits and vegetables in a day is ideal. I recommend a homemade smoothie each morning to assure proper water intake, and this will start you off with a good 3-4 servings of fruits and/or veggies in the morning. See your doctor if these symptoms persist after you increase water intake.
  2. If you have loose stools: You are not eating enough. This is the most common side effect of transitioning to a plant based diet. Let’s say you start eating more fruits and veggies and notice you are having loose stools 2-3 times per day! Make sure you are eating enough. The biggest misconception of a balanced planty-ful lifestyle is that you can only eat fruits and veggies, but this is not the case! This lifestyle should have you full all day! For example, take a look at this meal: A smoothie in the morning with a bowl of quinoa, nuts for a snack, chili for lunch, fruit as a snack, and black bean tacos for dinner and maybe a scoop of ice cream for dessert is an ideal planty-ful diet! That is probably more than you have eaten in a day! If you were to skip lunch and have a small dinner, all your intestines have to digest is a smoothie and some nuts! All the water will run through you! That is where insoluble fiber comes in, and if you skip meals you will not have enough to help regulate your stool. So consumption is very important! Again, if this does not resolve after increasing food intake notify your doctor.

Topic 2: Understanding Cholesterol and Saturated Fats

These guys are a huge part of the obesity, diabetes, and hypertension pandemics, therefore you should know as much as possible about them. Depending on your family history, these guys can be detrimental to your health. Believe me, my family history is part of my reasoning for eating a plant based diet. So as we move forward, facts will be discussed and research will be utilized to help you understand what all the fuss is about.


The human body makes all the cholesterol you need. Synthesized by the liver, cholesterol is used by the body to create some of the most important components of the human body: hormones and vitamin D.

Since our body makes all of the cholesterol we need, we do not necessarily need extra cholesterol in the diet. And now health professionals and researchers around the nation know that too much cholesterol increases risk for many chronic conditions Americans suffer from, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart attack, even Alzheimer’s disease… and the list goes on.

Although plant based diets have proven time and time again to prevent many chronic diseases, we know that Americans are uncomfortable with switching to a fully plant based diet. And it is not their fault. Meat is the staple of the American diet. So, what we will do is help you balance your diet, so that you eat healthy amounts of meat.

So, how much cholesterol is recommended by the USDA?

It is recommended that the average person only eat 300mg of cholesterol per day. But this level has also been associated with increased risk of chronic diseases. So I recommend to my patients to keep the daily number even lower.. around 150mg per day. Now, people who keep up with the US Dietary Guidelines may note that this cholesterol recommedation is no longer expressed in their literature. Lets just say there are higher forces working on these guidelines and the meat corporation is a big business. So, listen to the nutritionists and dietitians on this one, the science says it all.

See the table below for the USDA’s reported cholesterol in some of the most commonly eaten animal foods:

1 Egg4 oz Chicken3 oz Beef3 oz Fish3oz Shrimp1 tbsp Butter
Cholesterol (mg)18761.5775418931
Note: These numbers are high when the amount consumed is low, so imagine the numbers when we double to 6 oz, 8oz, or even 12 oz.

Saturated Fats

You can think of saturated fats as the little brother of cholesterol! They tend to help cholesterol build up in the system by preventing the body’s receptors from attaching to excess cholesterol and therefore preventing it from being broken down. As saturated fats increase, triglycerides and cholesterol increase in the body, and a perfect environment is created for your bad cholesterol (or LDL) to build up. Saturated fats are found, much like cholesterol, in very high percentages in animal products. The difference is, saturated fats, as discussed before, are also found in plant oils which is why we must choose the oils that are low in saturated fats, such as avocado oil and olive oil.

In the words of the USDA “Specifically, the Dietary Guidelines recommends keeping saturated fat consumption to less than 10% of calories per day. This recommendation is based on scientific evidence that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease” (Read more on the FAQs Page)

In the words of MedlinePlus.gov “You should limit saturated fat to less than 10% of your daily calories. To further reduce your heart disease risk, limit saturated fats to less than 7% of your total daily calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that is 140 to 200 calories or 16 to 22 grams (g) of saturated fats a day”

See the table below for the USDA’s reported saturated fats in some of the most commonly eaten animal foods:

1 Egg4 oz Chicken3 oz Beef3 oz Fish3oz Shrimp1 tbsp Butter
Total Fat (g)59.51310.312
Saturated Fat (g) saturated
and .5 trans fat
Note: If we stick to 1 serving of these foods saturated fats can be consumed at low levels.

Before moving on to the next section, take your final quiz: Quiz 3, once your done, you will have finished the Learn Section! Now you can move on to the Planning section.

*All of the information here is from the author’s ongoing nutrition education, and continued education via nutrition textbooks, eatright.org, and pubmed research articles that are not biased and have good accuracy. This information is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. This information is to be read and utilized at your own will, and the author is not responsible for any outcomes that come from utilizing this information. This information may be discussed with and adjusted by your dietitian, nutritionist, or medical provider for a more personalized plan. If you have any questions feel free to contact us via the Contact Page. For sources Click Here.

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