What is fiber?
Fiber is an important nutrient to consider for any healthy, balanced nutrition plan. Its value to human health lies in the fact that you cannot digest it as you lack the enzyme to break it down to extract energy, unlike other animals and insects.
The two main types of fibers in your food are insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, and soluble fiber, which does dissolve in water. Both are crucial to managing the digestion of other food particles as well as maintaining the proper function of digestive organs and the gut microbiome.
Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower. And because it doesn’t combine with water, it can push the movement of food through your digestive system and add to the bulk of stool to avoid loose stools. It’s an irreplaceable tool for those who struggle with constipation or irregular bowel movements. (2)
Soluble fiber is equally important as it turns into a gel when added to water and this helps to keep food from moving through your digestive tract too quickly and allows food nutrients to be adequately broken down and absorbed. You can find this type of fiber in apples, citrus, carrots, and barley grain. (2)
Effects of a high-fiber diet
From the above, you can see why fiber is so valuable in a healthy, balanced diet. Its contribution to regulating digestion is well-known by scientists. Additionally, it also supports the following:
・Reduce cholesterol levels - lowers LDL cholesterol which is the unhealthy kind associated with high blood pressure and inflammation
・Control blood sugar levels - slow digestion and release of sugar into the bloodstream following a meal
・Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease - fiber is correlated with longevity
・Improve satiety levels - adds bulk to meals to help you feel full for longer
・Strengthen bacteria flora - feeds the bacteria found in the G.I. tract
Fiber and gut health
Because humans lack the digestive enzymes to break down fiber, it arrives in the colon mostly intact, which means the trillions of gut bacteria that reside there can consume some of the fibers. These specific fibers are known as prebiotics. They feed the gut bacteria so they can then perform useful functions for us humans, thus creating a symbiotic relationship. One example is when these gut bacteria produce Short Chain Fatty Acids that then help to improve blood sugar regulation and cholesterol control to help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and conditions that lead to diabetes. (3)
Therefore, a high-fiber diet benefits your gut health directly with its work in stool formation and bowel movements, and it also supports the rest of your body and metabolism by way of these beneficial gut bacteria, most of which reside in the colon. (3)
A high-fiber diet ensures beneficial bacteria can proliferate while “bad” bacteria are kept from taking over since many of these harmful strains feed on sugar. (3)
How to eat a fiber-rich diet
The recommended fiber intake in the US is 25-38 grams for adults under 50. This includes a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber as they act as complements to each other. (1)
Here are a few tips for getting sufficient fiber daily:
・Prioritize whole grain products rather than bread and pasta made with refined white flour
・Include 2-3 different fibrous vegetables with each meal: leafy greens, tomatoes, and snap peas are some of my favorites
・Add in chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp hearts to smoothies, salads, and oatmeals
・Incorporate fruits, veggies, and nuts into your snacks