When it comes to optimizing gut health, we often get distracted with the latest diet or marketed products that we forget to go back to the basics. While it is not the newest craze, fiber has been a timeless, vital ingredient not only for the digestive tract, but also for metabolic and cardiovascular health. Most of us are not consuming the recommended amount per day and keeping up with good ol’ fiber is sure to make a difference in many people’s diet.
What Exactly is Fiber?
Fiber is mostly found in plant foods and is a non-digestible form of carbohydrates. Even though it is undigestable, fiber is required for optimal digestive health. Fiber helps support the good bacteria in your gut as these bacteria can use the fiber for food. In return, the bacteria produce things called Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA) which provide you with energy and a whole host of digestive health benefits.
Soluble vs Insoluble Fiber:
insoluble fiber is not absorbed by water and is a key player in keeping your bowel moments regular.
soluble fiber dissolves in water and is more responsible for lowering cholesterol and stabilizing the release of sugar into the blood stream.
What Else is Fiber Good for?
Increased fiber intake is associated with a reduction in many chronic diseases. An article by Harvard school of Public Health nicely lists out how fiber works to ward off these diseases:
Cardiovascular disease (high intake associated with 40% reduction in coronary heart disease)
Decreasing cholesterol levels and blood pressure
Type 2 diabetes (fiber stabilizes blood sugar spikes, thus reducing your risk of developing insulin resistance)
Diverticular disease: (associated with a 40% reduction in this common inflammatory disease of the colon)
weight management: fiber helps you feel full which leads to a reduction in total calorie intake.
Breast Cancer: yes, a large study demonstrated a link between high fiber intake and a decreased risk in developing breast cancer.
How Much Fiber Per Day?
Many of us Americans get about 15 grams of fiber per day. Most guidelines suggest consuming 30 grams of fiber per day. Our Paleolithic ancestors may have had around 100 grams/day! Don’t know where you are at? Try to track your intake for a couple days, phone apps like MyFitnessPal are an easy and free way to track fiber intake.
How to Increase Fiber Intake Daily?
Oatmeal for breakfast, or at least cereals with whole grains. My fiber rich oatmeal: steel cut oats, blueberries, sprinkle of flax meal, dash of raw honey, and a spoonful of peanut butter.
Eat whole grain products instead of white rice, bread and pasta.
Snack on raw vegetables or nuts throughout the day.
Increase beans/legumes in your meals and reduce the meat
Eat whole fruits and reduce fruit juices which have the fiber extracted from them.
Can I just take a fiber supplement?
Although a fiber supplement has its time and place, studies show that fiber from food is more beneficial as they contain vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that supplements lack.
Print it out, place it on your fridge, use to reach your fiber goal and to motivate you at the grocery store.
Hopefully you now see that fiber is not just for your grandparents. Fiber is an essential ingredient needed to promote health and prevent disease.
–Dr. Singh, MD Gastroenterologist
Fun Food Facts: Flaxseed (1 tablespoon = 3 grams of fiber)
Flaxseed is often considered a super food and it has been around for a super long time. Historians have found it as far back as 8,000 B.C. Today research has shown us flaxseeds have the potential to protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. The seed is rich in omega 3 fats which is in stark contrast to the more inflammatory omega 6 rich foods that are so common in processed foods. Even without the current research, Charlemagne in the 8th century created laws that made his subjects consume flaxseeds! Nobody may be forcing you to eat it, but it may be a great health boost to your smoothie, salad, soups or whatever else you can think of! Another option is to try flaxseed meal (ground flax) as an egg substitute. Just mix 1 Tbsp flax meal with 2.5 Tbsp water and let it sit for 5 minutes. This can replace 1 egg when baking or cooking.