We’ve been hearing about for years now; to stay healthy you need to eat more fiber. According to the current US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, Americans should be eating about 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day, yet most adults won’t even eat half that amount.
Research has shown that eating fiber offers many incredible health benefits, like:
- Healthier skin: Fiber, especially psyllium husk, can help take fungus and yeast out of the body which could prevent them from being excreted through your skin where they may trigger rashes and acne
- Digestive health: Dietary fiber may reduce (by up to 40 percent) the risk of developing diverticulitis; the inflammation of polyps in the intestines
- Keep blood sugar stable: Consuming soluble fiber could help slow the rate that your body breaks down carbohydrates and absorbs sugar, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels
- Weight control: Supplementing the diet with fiber has been shown to help obese people lose weight (possibly because fiber helps you feel fuller)
- Prevent colon cancer: Because fiber helps to move waste through the digestive tract, it may help to prevent colon cancer because it keeps the intestines clean and prevent food waste from staying inside long enough to cause problems
While the list of benefits is impressive — most of us still don’t know why fiber is so good for our health. We’re going to fix that by taking a look at what fiber is, where it’s found, and how recent research has uncovered the incredible reasons why eating fiber is so good for you.
What is Fiber?
When food is digested, your body strips out only the nutrients it requires, and dietary fiber is what’s left over.
Dietary fiber comes in two forms: insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fiber (the fiber that doesn’t dissolve in water) is what bulks up the food as it moves through our digestive system; it also speeds up the rate that it moves through the body. This is essential for individuals who suffer from a slow digestion or are frequently constipated. Insoluble fiber can be found in foods like leafy green veggies, whole-grains, green beans and all kinds of potatoes.
Soluble fiber, which does dissolves in the water in our digestive systems, forms a kind of gel. Unlike insoluble fiber, it slows down the passage of food through the digestive tract so your body can more effectively absorb nutrients. You can get soluble fiber from foods like oats, oat bran, Brussels sprouts, and barley contain lots of soluble fiber. Keep in mind that many fiber-rich foods will contain both types of fiber.
How Fiber is broken down in the Body
While the human digestive system lacks the necessary enzymes to break down the fiber we eat — that’s not the whole story.
While dietary fiber is indigestible to for humans, our digestive tract is protected by a layer of mucus which hosts a population of hundreds of species of different bacteria. Many of these bacteria do produce the enzymes needed to digest the fiber we eat.
This ability thrive on the fiber humans can’t digest has led researchers to investigate if it’s these microbes that create the health benefits of a fiber-rich diet. Recently published studies in the journal Cell Host and Microbe conclude that those bacteria really are the reason why fiber benefits our health so much.
What Researchers Found OutResearchers discovered that when mice were placed on a low-fiber/high-fat diet, the population of healthy (probiotic) gut bacteria was drastically reduced.
Another study tried a similar experiment; they evaluated the gut bacteria in mice as they were switched to a low-fiber diet rich in fat and sugar, with only about 20 percent of calories from protein.
The scientists focused on how diverse the bacteria population was in the mouse’s gut, rather than the number of bacteria, like the first study. When the mice were switched to a low-fiber diet, they found that many common bacteria became rare, and formerly rare (and not necessarily healthy) types of bacteria became much more common.
The researchers in both studies also saw the gut health of the mice quickly decline. The animal’s intestines shrank, and the mucus layer became thinner. This brought the bacteria layer closer to the intestinal wall, which began triggering the immune system.
The mice in both studies also experienced chronic gut inflammation followed by weight gain and higher blood sugar levels after a few weeks on the low-fiber/high-fat diet.
What Happened When Fiber was returned to the Diet?
Both teams of researchers also gave another group of mice a high-fat diet along with a moderate amount of a dietary fiber called inulin. This maintained a healthy digestive tract mucus layer compared to the mice that didn’t get any fiber; and this kept the gut bacteria at a safer distance from the intestinal wall.
Mice that received a much higher dose of inulin showed even more impressive results:
Also, while eating a high-fat diet, the mice getting a big dose of inulin had healthy populations of bacteria in their intestines, their gut health was more normal, and they even gained less weight.
Then Some Mice were given a Probiotic Bacteria
Finally, researchers tried adding fiber-feeding bacteria to water that the mice on a high-fat diet drank. This addition improved their health even more. Although they still ate a high-fat diet, the mucus layer in their guts was thicker, which maintained a strong barrier to prevent bacteria from leaking through their intestinal walls.
How to get more Fiber in Your Diet
Getting healthy fiber into your diet is simple. Begin by lowering the amount of fat, refined foods, and meats that you eat. Try switching them for high-fiber food items. Include lots of high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and seeds.
How could you get up to 37 grams of fiber Every Day?
Now that you know how important it is to eat the recommended daily intake of fiber, here is a sample menu to show you how easy it is to include the fiber you need for optimal health in your diet:
Breakfast: about one cup of bran flakes (5g) and half of a banana (1.5 grams)
Snack: A cup of raspberries (8g)
Lunch: A cup of black bean soup (about 8g)
Dinner: One cup of lentils, split peas or black beans (about 15g)
You don’t need to stop eating any foods to have a high-fiber diet; you just need to learn how to include some new, fiber-rich food into your diet. Considering all the health benefits you’ll enjoy, and the bonus of possibly losing some weight, why wouldn’t you?