Is Fiber important for gut health?
Fiber is found in most whole foods we eat from vegetables, fruits, to legumes and grains. But why is fiber important for gut health, digestion, and our overall health?
Read more about this important part of your diet.
What Is Fiber?
It is a type of carbohydrate but, unlike other carbs, it cannot be broken down into digestible sugar molecules. Therefore, fiber passes through the intestinal tract relatively intact. However, on its journey, fiber does a lot of work. Animal products such as dairy, fish, chicken, fats do NOT contain fiber. Let me repeat, animal products do not contain fiber.
Fiber acts like a “broom” gently cleaning out intestines. Fiber is extremely important part of our diet for promoting healthy digestion, regularity and health benefits such as heart health, weight management, blood sugar regulation, cholesterol maintenance, reducing certain types of cancer, and more!
Why do we need fiber?
Fiber is known for its ability to keep you regular and reduce constipation, digestion benefit to eating enough fiber in your diet is the movement of your intestines. This isn’t just important for maintaining regular bowel movements and preventing constipation, it also plays a role in your body signaling that you’re full. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, consuming foods rich in insoluble fiber has been found to reduce the risk of diverticulitis by 40%!
In addition to providing digestion health benefits, eating enough fiber is good for your entire body! It’s so important we take care of our gut health with eating enough amounts of probiotic foods and prebiotic foods, these foods promote healthy bacteria, regular bowel movements, regulate blood sugars, and better nutrient absorption.
Fiber plays a role in heart health — in a nutshell when you digest food it requires bile acids which are mostly made up of cholesterol. Your liver pulls cholesterol from the bloodstream to create bile acids which reduce the amount of LDL.
LDL is the (bad) cholesterol associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease so it’s important to pay attention to both your LDL and HDL (good cholesterol).
Fiber has a unique ability to help regulate blood sugar. Fiber acts to slow the rate of digestion, which can slow the rate of sugar being absorbed in the bloodstream, creating a vehicle for stabilizing blood sugars. Eating whole foods rich in fiber, like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains which are also good sources of carbohydrates, will keep your blood sugars from rising too fast.
Types of Fiber
In general, there are a few types of fiber called soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water. As it moves through your digestive system it’s fermented by bacteria--it loves water. This type of fiber absorbs water and becomes gel-like. So, think--chia seed pudding? Chia seeds are a great source of soluble fiber!
Soluble fiber can reduce cholesterol, regulate blood sugars, and can improve overall digestive and immune health.
Examples of soluble fiber include beans, most vegetables, avocado, sweet potato, figs, flax seed, chia seeds, pears, apricots, and more.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water so as it goes through your digestive system it doesn’t change. Meaning, it doesn’t absorb water like soluble fiber and becomes gel like, instead, it stays the same and like soluble fiber, it can also be fermented by bacteria in the colon.
Insoluble fiber promotes regular bowel movements since it contributes to the bulk of the stool, speeds up the elimination of waste through the colon, and maintains pH of the intestines.
Many whole foods that contain insoluble fiber also contain soluble fiber. Examples of insoluble fiber are bran cereals, beans, lentils, most whole grains, vegetables like okra, corn, and more.
How much do you need to eat daily?
Everyone is different in terms of their unique needs for fiber — in general 30-35g of fiber per day is the goal for obtaining the most health benefits noted above.
Need help getting fiber in your diet
Some easy ways to add fiber to your diet.
· Replace beef with beans
· Choose oatmeal with berries or sliced apple, instead of eggs or sugary cereal
· Snack on fiber-rich foods, such as sliced apples with peanut butter or veggies and hummus
· Skip processed foods like cookies, crackers, chips, and sodas
· If you eat bread, choose whole grain brain, instead of white bread
· Eat complex carbohydrates such as burglar wheat, quinoa, whole wheat orzo
What are your whole food sources of fiber? Did you know that fiber plays such an important role in your overall health outside of maintaining healthy digestion? Share below in the comments and continue the conversation on Instagram #nutrition_connections
By: Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN