Why You Need to Eat a High Fiber Diet
Fiber and a healthy colon are possibly the most uncool health topics to talk about. We've all heard that we need to eat more fiber, but who wants to talk about prunes and beans when we can talk about medicinal mushrooms and CBD?
Fiber, along with a healthy microbiome will change your life. People who eat a plant-based diet rich in fiber tend to have a reduced risk of heart disease, arthritis, and obesity. Fiber promotes weight loss because it keeps you full, it helps with blood sugar control, it may lower a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer, it protects against bowel cancer, and is tied to lower lung cancer risk.
One type of fiber, soluble fiber, creates a viscous gel, aiding with the better absorption of nutrients, modulating appetite-regulating hormones and inducing satiety. Researchers are just getting started in exploring fiber’s role in the body, but we do know that without enough fiber our digestive tract and immune system don’t function optimally.
A healthy gut is a foundation for health and wellness, and fiber is linked to promoting health benefits that range from better moods to a healthier heart. Over the past few years, we have seen the rise of fermented foods, prebiotics, and new strains of probiotics. While these have dominated the healthy gut conversation, the lack of fiber in our diets is a real problem and most people are deficient in fiber. The majority of adults in the US eat about half of the recommended 30 grams of fiber a day, with women only getting about 17 grams a day on average.
Fiber and Inflammation
A lack of fiber in the diet has been shown to contribute to chronic inflammation of the gut wall and can cause low-level inflammation throughout the body. While inflammation is necessary because it helps to fight infections in the body, low-level chronic inflammation is associated with many chronic health problems and diseases. A fiber-rich, plant-based diet stimulates the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, and in turn, they maintain a healthy gut microbiome from fermenting fiber to short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids then reduce the effects of inflammation throughout the body.
Fredrik Bäckhed at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that a low-fiber diet causes the gut bacteria population to diminish and the diversity of species to change. Dr. Bäckhed and Andrew T. Gewirtz of Georgia State University, both separately observed that on a low fiber diet the protective mucous layer in the gut shrunk and bacteria ended up closer to the intestinal wall, and that proximity triggered an immune reaction followed by chronic inflammation in the intestine.
A high fiber diet rich in fruits and vegetables also provides prebiotics which are a type of dietary fiber, and are distinguished by their particular fermentation pattern and the selective stimulation of growth of bifidobacteria. Prebiotics travel through the digestive system without being broken down and become nutrient sources for our beneficial gut bacteria to feed on.
Typical prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides, inulin, and galactooligosaccharides, and they are naturally present in a number of fruits and vegetables such as under-ripe bananas, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, leeks, and wheat. Prebiotics have important benefits and limited studies so far point to their role in reducing inflammation, having protective effects against colon cancer, the ability to enhance the bioavailability of minerals, and lower some risk factors for heart disease.
Sources of Fiber
There are two types of fiber, insoluble and soluble fiber. Don’t worry too much about what kind of fiber you should be eating, instead, focus on eating a wide variety of plant-based high fiber foods and aim for about 30 grams a day. Eat more of it than you think you need, because chances are, you are not getting enough.
Soluble fiber: beans, lentils, oats, barley, chia seeds, strawberries, apples, peas, and rice bran.
Insoluble fiber: oat bran, beans, lentils, legumes, whole grains, rice, coconut, flax seeds, nuts, avocados, figs, split peas, bananas, most fruits and vegetables.
Insoluble adds bulk to the intestine and promotes regular bowel movements and prevents constipation.
Although there are an increasing number of fiber supplements found on the market unless you absolutely need to, skip the supplements and prioritize to get your 30 grams of fiber a day through your diet.
A word of caution with fiber: increase your intake slowly (this includes any fiber supplements you are taking) because too much too fast, can cause bloating, gas, and stomach pain. Drink lots of water to keep things moving through your intestinal tract. If you are prone to inflammatory bowel disease, then lots of insoluble fiber may worsen symptoms, so go slowly when boosting your fiber intake.