13 Keto-Friendly Fiber Foods

While some keto or low-carb proponents claim fiber is useless at best and actively harmful at worst, I come down on the side that says fiber is probably helpful for most people. Some folks have persistently better responses to low- or no-fiber keto diets, and I won’t argue with that—I’ve seen it happen and I’ve read the studies where de-emphasizing fiber can actually improve constipation, for example.

I’ll just say that I have an opposite reaction, and, most importantly, I love eating a variety of plant foods that also happen to contain a ton of great nutrients in addition to fiber.

Do I buy into the idea that fiber is important because it is every human being’s responsibility to produce as much colonic bulk as humanly possible? No.

Do I think we should be consistently pushing the limits of our digestive tracts, performing feats of bathroom heroism so momentous they border on Herculean, and making sure the toilet bowl buckles beneath us? No.

The real value of fiber lies not in its coarseness, its tendency to form colonic bulk, to keep us topped off. The true value lies in its fermentability. A fermentable fiber is a prebiotic fiber—fiber that feeds our gut bacteria.

I won’t get into the many roles our gut bacteria play in our health today (I’ve covered that before. 1, 2, 3).

I will, however, explain why we need to be feeding our gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria form a physical barrier against incursions and colonization by pathogenic bacteria; they take up room along the gut lining so pathogens can’t. If we don’t feed our gut bacteria with prebiotics, it won’t be around to protect us. After antibiotic treatment where both good and bad gut flora are indiscriminately targeted and wiped out, pathogenic obesity-promoting bacteria take advantage of the open space. That’s a worst-case scenario, but it shows what can happen when the harmony of the gut is disturbed by antibiotics or, to a less extent, a lack of fermentable prebiotic fibers.

When our gut bacteria eat prebiotics, they also give off metabolites like butyric acid—a short chain fatty acid that our colonic cells use as an energy source and which improves metabolic health.

Gut bacteria also convert antinutrients like phytic acid into nutrients like inositol. The almond meal-obsessed keto eater would do well to have a powerful gut biome set up to convert all that phytic acid to inositol.

Now, some writers will come up with specific blends of fibers, powders and gums to create the “optimal” prebiotic diet for your gut bacteria, but that’s pretty silly. The gut is a complicated place. We’ve barely begun to even identify all its inhabitants. To think we know the precise blend of isolated fiber that will make them flourish, and then act on that, is a mistake.

A better option is to eat foods that contain fiber. Some of the prebiotic fibrous foods with the best nutrient profiles also happen to be extremely keto-friendly.

1) Almonds and Pistachios

Nuts are usually favored in health-conscious circles for a few reasons. They like the monounsaturated fat. They like the mineral profile, or the complete protein, or their ability to dissemble into nut meals and form baked goods. But what gets short shrift is the fiber content. Now, I can’t speak for other nuts, but almonds and pistachios in particular contain fiber with potent prebiotic effects. People who eat almonds and to an even greater extent pistachios end up with improved gut bacteria profiles.

2) Green Bananas

Ripe bananas are difficult to squeeze into a ketogenic diet. The green banana—an unripe one—is mostly resistant starch, a type of starch that cannot be digested and travels untouched until colonic bacteria metabolize it. It’s one of the best stimulators we know of butyric acid production. And sure, you could do a spoonful of raw potato starch to get your resistant starch, but the beauty of the green banana is that it also provides potassium, another nutrient that some find difficult to obtain and stay keto.

3) Wild Blueberries

Blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries, and strawberries are all loaded with fiber, and you should eat them. They’re lower carb than you think, they’re loaded with polyphenols, and topped with some real whipped cream they make a fantastic dessert. But wild blueberries are special. They’re smaller than other berries, which increases the amount of skin per ounce you get, and skin is where all the polyphenols and fiber lie. Heck, even the blueberry’s polyphenols have prebiotic effects on the gut biome.

4) Mushrooms

A few years ago, I wrote a whole post on mushrooms. Suffice it to say, they’re quite wonderful, bordering on magical. I did not discuss the fiber they contain. It turns out that all the various mushroom polysaccharides/fibers, including beta-glucans, mannans, chitin, xylans, and galactans also act as potent prebiotics that improve the health of the host.

5) Avocado

Your standard avocado has about 12-15 grams of fiber, if you eat the whole thing. I

6) Jicama

Great with chili powder, salt, and lime juice, jicama is about 11 grams of carbs per cup, but half of those are inulin, a potent prebiotic fiber with a tendency to really ramp up butyrate production.

7) Onions

Onions are another fantastic source of inulin. They go into almost every dish of every cuisine, so there’s no excuse not to be eating onions.

8) Garlic

I’ve been known to treat garlic like a vegetable, roasting an entire cast iron pan full until brown and sweet and chewy. They’re another great source of prebiotic fiber.

9) Leeks

Leeks have more inulin than onions. Try them crispy in egg scrambles.

10) Broccoli

Broccolini is a major part of my favorite meal of the day—my Big-Ass Keto Salad. Broccoli (and cruciferous vegetables in general) has been shown to have modulatory effects on the gut biome.

11) Sauerkraut

Kraut gives you two in one. It’s a fermented food, which is great for the gut biome. And it’s cabbage, which is very fibrous. Even pasteurized kraut improves gut health.

12) Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate, the good stuff with a high cacao content (85%+) and low sugar content, is an incredible source of prebiotic fiber. Eat more of it.

13) Animal Fiber

Obligate carnivores like cheetahs who don’t eat any plants (willingly) still have gut bacteria. These gut bacteria thrive on “animal fiber,” the gristle and cartilage and other bits of connective tissue that comprise a good 20-30% of the walking weight of a prey animal. Humans are not obligate carnivores, but eating the entire animal has been a mainstay of advanced hominid existence for millions of years. I find it very likely that something, someone, somewhere inside our guts is breaking down the animal fiber we eat—so you’d better be eating some!

Not so tough, is it? It’s not like I’m suggesting you load up on bran muffins, psyllium smoothies. I don’t want you dumping flax meal into everything or munching on those awful fiber gummies. Just eat some basic, healthy, low-carb plant matter—foods that don’t really scream “fiber”—and the rest will take care of itself.

What’s your favorite low-carb source of fiber? Let me know down below.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

mayo_640x80

References: 

Hernández E, Bargiela R, Diez MS, et al. Functional consequences of microbial shifts in the human gastrointestinal tract linked to antibiotic treatment and obesity. Gut Microbes. 2013;4(4):306-15.

Ukhanova M, Wang X, Baer DJ, Novotny JA, Fredborg M, Mai V. Effects of almond and pistachio consumption on gut microbiota composition in a randomised cross-over human feeding study. Br J Nutr. 2014;111(12):2146-52.

Jiao X, Wang Y, Lin Y, et al. Blueberry polyphenols extract as a potential prebiotic with anti-obesity effects on C57BL/6 J mice by modulating the gut microbiota. J Nutr Biochem. 2019;64:88-100.

Jayachandran M, Xiao J, Xu B. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(9)

Nielsen ES, Garnås E, Jensen KJ, et al. Lacto-fermented sauerkraut improves symptoms in IBS patients independent of product pasteurisation – a pilot study. Food Funct. 2018;9(10):5323-5335.

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Ultimate Guide to Non-Dairy Milks

Some people just don’t do milk.

There are many reasons why. Maybe you have a dairy intolerance. Maybe you don’t like the way cow’s milk tastes. Or maybe you think cow milk is unhealthy.

I won’t contest the reasons why. That’s another topic for another post, and I’ve already covered the most common anti-dairy arguments. If you want to read about my stance on the healthfulness (or lack thereof) of dairy, read what I’ve written about raw milk, cheese, yogurt, and dairy in general. If you want to learn how to identify dairy intolerance, read this.

But the fact is, lots of people either need or want a milk alternative. Water is great to drink, but it’s not the right smoothie substrate, and it can’t replace milk in recipes or coffee drinks. You need something vaguely white and thick enough to pass as milk.

Normally in a post like this, I’d cover all the different varieties and what sets each apart—their strengths and weaknesses, their nutrient profiles, their unhealthy ingredients. And I’ll certainly do that today, but first there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that there are plenty of good choices available. If you want something to drink, use in smoothies, or add to coffee, there are many different plant-based milk that avoid overly offensive ingredients.

The bad news is that most non-dairy milks are usually very low in nutrients. The parent food to these plant-based milks—the almonds, the cashews, the hemp seeds, and so on—are extremely nutrient-dense in and of themselves. Just check out my posts on nuts and seeds to get the nutritional lay of the land. But almond milk isn’t almonds, cashew milk isn’t cashews, and hemp seed milk isn’t hemp seeds.

This isn’t surprising when you think about how nut milks are made: by blending the nuts with a bunch of water and straining out the solids to try to extract some of the nut-ness. It’s pretty inefficient. If you could press an almond to wring out the almond milk, then you’d have something interesting. But that’s not how it works. Most non-dairy milks are superficial mirages of the real thing.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the most popular non-dairy milks and compare the nutrients in the parent nut/seed/plant to the nutrients in the nut/seed/plant-milk (when applicable).

Nutrient Profiles Of Popular Non-Dairy Milks

Almond Milk

This is the go-to option for most strict paleo eaters starting out. It sounds like a great idea. Almonds are a nutritious nut, high in magnesium, copper, vitamin E, and manganese. They have a decent amount of protein, some nice prebiotic fiber. In your head, almond milk is fantastic. Unfortunately—and this goes for most of the other nut milks out there—the average jug of store-bought almond milk contains no more than a handful of almonds.

In an ounce of almonds:

  • 163 calories
  • 6 g carbs: 3.5 g fiber
  • 14 g fat: 8.8 g MUFA, 3.4 g linoleic acid (LA), 1.1 g SFA
  • 6 g protein
  • 50% vitamin E
  • 22% vitamin B2
  • 31% copper
  • 18% magnesium
  • 28% manganese

In a cup of almond milk:

  • 36 calories
  • 1.4 g carbs
  • 2.6 g fat: 1.7 g MUFA, 0.6 g linoleic acid
  • 1.4 g protein
  • 45% vitamin E (added)
  • 17% vitamin A (added)
  • 25% vitamin D2 (added)
  • 4% magnesium
  • 4% manganese
  • 39% calcium (added)
  • 8% copper

Not great carry over. No prebiotic almond fiber. Almost no protein, magnesium, manganese, or copper. The richest nutrients are all the ones they added after the fact.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is in the same boat: mostly water, not too much cashew.

In an ounce of cashews:

  • 156.8 calories
  • 8.6 g carbs: 0.9 g fiber
  • 12.4 g fat: 6.7 g MUFA, 2.2 g LA, 2.2 g SFA
  • 5.2 g protein
  • 10% vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 69% copper
  • 24% iron
  • 20% magnesium
  • 20% manganese
  • 15% zinc

In a cup of cashew milk:

  • 25 calories
  • 1.4 g carbs: 0.2 g fiber
  • 2 g fat: 1.1 g MUFA, 0.4 g linoleic acid
  • 0.8 g protein
  • 2% vitamin B1
  • 11% copper
  • 4% iron
  • 3% magnesium
  • 3% manganese
  • 2% zinc
  • 17% vitamin A (added)
  • 25% vitamin D2 (added)
  • 18% vitamin E (added)
  • 37% calcium (added)

Coconut Milk

Traditionally, you make coconut milk by pulverizing fresh coconut flesh, blending it with a little water, and passing it through a cheesecloth or fine strainer. This produces a very rich, very high-fat milk that runs about 550 calories per cup. This is the coconut milk used in cooking that comes in cans and cartons. A second pass with the coconut solids produces a thinner, less-rich coconut milk that runs about 150 calories per cup. This is often called “Lite Coconut Milk” and can be used to cook or to drink.

Besides the abundance of medium chain triglycerides and a lot of manganese, neither thick or thin coconut milk are nutrient-dense. A cup of rich, full-fat coconut milk gives decent amounts of magnesium, copper, zinc, selenium, and iron, but you have to realize that it takes 600 calories to get those nutrients. That’s not exactly nutrient-dense; the micronutrient-to-calorie ratio is skewed.

They do sell jugs of thin coconut milk as a milk replacement. Except for the fortifications they add (vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin, and the other usual suspects), these are

Flax Milk

In an ounce of flaxseed:

  • 151.4 calories
  • 8.2 g carbs: 7.7 g fiber
  • 12 g fat: 2.1 g MUFA, 6.5 g ALA (omega-3), 1.7 g LA, 1 g SFA
  • 5.2 g protein
  • 39% vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 38% copper
  • 20% iron
  • 26% magnesium
  • 31% manganese
  • 13% selenium
  • 11% zinc

In a cup of flax milk:

  • 25 calories
  • 1 g carbs
  • 2.5 g fat: 1.2 g ALA (omega-3)
  • 5% iron
  • 63% B12 (added)
  • 25% vitamin D2 (added)
  • 17% vitamin A (added)
  • 25% calcium (added)

The main standout is the omega-3 content. Flax milk has a little over a gram of alpha-linolenic acid (the plant form of omega-3) per cup.

Hemp Milk

I’m not talking about the oncoming wave of high-THC cannabis milks. This is hemp milk, produced by blending non-psychoactive hemp seeds with water and straining the solids out.

In an ounce:

  • 149.1 calories
  • 7.8 carbs: 7.8 g fiber (all fiber)
  • 10.1 g fat: 1.1 g MUFA, 2.2 g ALA, 4.8 g LA, 0.8 g SFA
  • 7 g protein
  • 24% vitamin A
  • 63% copper
  • 50% iron
  • 33% magnesium
  • 86% manganese
  • 13% selenium
  • 18% zinc

In a cup of hemp milk:

  • 70 calories
  • 2.2 g carbs, all fiber
  • 6 g fat, 1 g ALA (omega-3), 3 g omega-6
  • 2 g protein
  • 18% copper
  • 13% iron
  • 10% magnesium
  • 24% manganese
  • Plus all the usual fortifications (calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12

That’s not too bad, actually. It picks up some decent mineral levels, and hemp fat is one of the only fats to contain stearidonic acid, an intermediate omega-3 fat in the conversion pathway from ALA to EPA that increases the EPA content of red blood cells in humans (a very good thing).

Macadamia Milk

There’s a product called Milkadamia. Great name, disappointing result.

In an ounce:

  • 203.5 calories
  • 3.9 g carbs: 2.4 g fiber
  • 21.5 g fat: 16.7 g MUFA, 0.4 g LA, 0.1 g alpha linolenic acid (ALA), 3.4 g SFA
  • 2.2 g protein
  • 28% vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 24% copper
  • 13% iron
  • 51% manganese

In a cup of mac nut milk:

  • 50 calories
  • 1 g carbs
  • 5 g fat
  • 1 g protein
  • 125% vitamin B12
  • 17% vitamin D
  • 25% vitamin A
  • 38% calcium

Despite having the best product name and the most potential for being a creamy milk substitute (has anyone tried adding mac nuts to a smoothie?—incredible!), the nutrient profile is low, and there’s not much going on.

Oat Milk

I’ve written about oats before. They have some interesting properties, some beneficial fiber, and a decent mineral profile. Adding oat beta-glucan fibers to fiber-free instant oatmeal reduces the postprandial glucose response, so at least in the context of refined starch, oat fiber can be helpful.

The most popular and widely-available oat milk is called Oatly. The website explains the process: mill raw oats with water, add enzymes to extract the starch, separate the beta-glucan from the bran, discard the bran, pasteurize it, bottle it. This retains the beta-glucans (2 grams of fiber per cup) and starch (16 grams carbs per cup). The only micronutrients they advertise are the ones they add, including calcium, potassium, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin D, and vitamin B12; there’s no indication that the normal oat-bound minerals like magnesium, manganese, and zinc make it into Oatly in significant amounts. To top things off, they add canola oil for texture and mouthfeel.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is made by blending water with cooked rice, brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch.

Like the others, its only real micronutrients comes from the ones they add to it. It’s higher in carbohydrates than any of the other milks I found.

Soy Milk

Believe it or not, of all the popular non-dairy milks out there, soy milk contains the most nutrients and is probably the closest to cow milk. It’s high in protein. It contains a nice balanced selection of minerals. A review comparing soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, and rice milk to cow milk found that soy milk was the closest—mostly because it actually featured measurable nutrients.

In a cup of soy milk:

  • 74 calories
  • 3.6 g carbs; 2 g fiber
  • 4 g fat
  • 8 g protein
  • All the usual additions, like calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, riboflavin, and vitamin A
  • 10% magnesium
  • 15% manganese
  • 6% folate
  • 6% potassium
  • 19% copper
  • 10% selenium

It’s not ideal though. People who regularly drink soy milk tend to end up with micronutrient deficiencies. Kids who drink cow milk are less likely to have atopic eczema, while soy milk drinkers have no such protection (and may even have increased risk). The protein in soy milk can help people build muscle, but milk proteins work better and also provide other benefits to the immune system.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use non-dairy milks. They are inoffensive and helpful for recipes. Just don’t expect any incredible health benefits from them.

3 Notable Brands With Extra Benefits

But there are a few specific non-dairy milk products that deserve a closer look, especially if you’re going to go this route.

Vita Coco Coconut Milk

Instead of blending coconut meat with water and filtering out the solids, Vita Coco mixes coconut cream into coconut water to produce a milk-like product. I haven’t tasted it myself, but the nutrient profile is pretty compelling.

  • Moderate levels of fat (5 grams per cup), primarily from saturated medium chain triglycerides.
  • Low carb (5 grams per cup). Naturally sweet from the coconut.
  • Decent mineral levels (RDIs: 45% calcium, 15% magnesium, 10% potassium, 10% zinc).

Some of the calcium, magnesium, and zinc is added, some is natural (coconut water can be a good source of all three). Still, it’s cool to see magnesium added because so many are deficient and supplementary magnesium is well-tolerated and effective.

Ripple

Back when I was toying with the idea of getting a significant amount of my protein from plant sources for a quick experiment (long story short: I didn’t do it, I like animals too much, and I found myself relying too heavily on processed powders), I got a bottle of something called Ripple. Ripple is pea-based milk, fortified with extra pea protein, algae-based DHA, calcium, iron, and vitamin D. It has as much protein per serving as milk (8 grams), using a type of protein that can promote muscle gain, and it tastes quite good. It uses high-oleic sunflower oil for fat, which is low in polyunsaturated fat. If I truly couldn’t have dairy and desperately wanted something to drink or make smoothies with, I’d probably do Ripple.

Tempt Hemp Milk

I’ve never tried this brand, or hemp milk in general. But just like the generic hemp milk analyzed above, Tempt Hemp Milk has a far better nutrient profile than most of the other nut or other non-dairy milks I ran across. If it tastes anything like hemp seed, which has a nutty, subtle flavor, I can imagine hemp milk having a pleasant taste.

Tips For Making Your Own

You’re all an enterprising bunch. Why not make your own non-dairy milk?

  1. You can make your own nut milk. There are thousands of recipes out there, but they generally seem to involve soaking nuts in water and a pinch of salt overnight, draining them, and blending the nuts with fresh water, straining out the solids, and sometimes adding a date or a dab of maple syrup for sweetening. The higher the nut:water ratio, the richer, more nutritious the milk.
  2. You can also make thicker, more nutrient-dense nut milk by blending nut butter and water until you reach the desired consistency. You aren’t discarding anything with this method.
  3. You can avoid nuts altogether. One scoop of MCT powder, one scoop of collagen peptides, whisked into water makes a decent approximation of milk. Use 3 tablespoons of water to make creamer for coffee. This isn’t a nutrient-powerhouse, but it provides medium chain triglycerides (which boost ketone production) and collagen.
  4. Or how about making a kind of nut broth? The usual audience for non-dairy milks is obsessed with consuming raw foods. They make a point to prevent their food from ever getting warmer than the hemp-clad crotch of a Trustafarian hitchhiking through Joshua Tree in the middle of summer. But consider that applying heated water to pulverized nuts will extract even more nutrients from the nut and deliver them into the water. Then you strain the solids and refrigerate the broth, producing “milk.” I bet that’d be quite tasty and more nutritious than a cold water nut wash.

The Bottom Line on Nut Milks…

Nothing on the market or that you cook up in your kitchen is going to rival the nutrient density of cow’s milk. From the protein to the healthy dairy fats to the dozens of micronutrients we know about and the dozens we have yet to catalogue, actual milk packs a real wallop that your basic almond, cashew, pecan, or flax milk simply can’t defeat. So, you’ll have to shift your view of “milk” as a whole food. Don’t give your kid four glasses of hemp milk and think you’re replacing cow dairy. Don’t wean your infant off the breast and fill a bottle with hazelnut milk instead; it’s not the same. Don’t eat a dog bowl-sized serving of cereal with some rice milk. The only nutritious part of cereal is the milk, and non-dairy milks do not qualify. Don’t rely on non-dairy milks for your nutrient intakes. Those are shoes they’ll never fill.

Instead, use non-dairy milks to make nutrient-dense smoothies. Use them in your coffee. Make protein shakes with them. In short, use these non-dairy plant-based milks to make it easier to eat more nutrient-dense foods.

Before you run out to buy cashew milk or pea milk or something similar, I will say this: I’m a fan of dairy. It’s a nutrient-dense source of bioavailable protein, healthy fat, calcium, vitamin K2, and other important and helpful compounds. If you can eat it without tolerance issues, you probably should. And if you can’t, you may be able to tolerate other animal milks, like goat’s milk. Many people who can’t do cow dairy can handle goat. It’s worth a try.

What about you? What’s your favorite non-dairy milk? Do you have any plant-based milks that you swear by?

collagen_bars_640x80

References:

Onuegbu AJ, Olisekodiaka JM, Irogue SE, et al. Consumption of Soymilk Reduces Lipid Peroxidation But May Lower Micronutrient Status in Apparently Healthy Individuals. J Med Food. 2018;21(5):506-510.

Hon KL, Tsang YC, Poon TC, et al. Dairy and nondairy beverage consumption for childhood atopic eczema: what health advice to give?. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2016;41(2):129-37.

Babault N, Païzis C, Deley G, et al. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1):3.

Wolever TMS, Jenkins AL, Prudence K, et al. Effect of adding oat bran to instant oatmeal on glycaemic response in humans – a study to establish the minimum effective dose of oat ?-glucan. Food Funct. 2018;9(3):1692-1700.

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!