Why Fiber is So Good For Your Gut Health (Hint: It’s About Way More Than Poop)

Why Fiber is Important for Gut Health
Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

By now, must of us are well aware that fiber is good for your gut health. It’s been shown to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and constipation. Not to mention that it helps you to stay fuller, longer which can help with weight loss. Fiber, which is found in fruits, vegetable, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains is a potent tool for keeping the gut microbiome in tip top condition. Here’s a closer look at what it’s actually doing in the body.

What is Fiber Anyway?

Fiber is an important component of plants, says Dr. Josh Axe, founder of DrAxe.com and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, also a certified doctor of natural medicine (DNM).

“Fiber is a part of the structure of plants and helps build plant molecules, including cellulose, lignins, and pectin,” says Dr. Axe. “Due to its structure and our inability to absorb it, fiber passes through our digestive system unabsorbed by digestive enzymes within the stomach, taking with it toxins, waste, fat, and cholesterol particles out of the gut. In the process, it helps improve our heart health, makes us feel full, and, of course, helps with digestion and detoxification.”

The Difference Between Soluble and Insoluble Fiber

Though we need both types of fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber are not the same thing, says Dr. Axe. Soluble fiber—found in oats, nuts, seeds, legumes, and some fruits and vegetables—slows down digestion in the body by attracting and forming a gel-like substance.

“Soluble fiber is the type that helps with weight loss because it slows the process of food emptying from your stomach and makes you feel full for longer after eating,” says Dr. Axe.

Insoluble fiber—found in brown rice, barley, bulgur, and some vegetables—slows down digestion by adding bulk to the stool and relieving constipation.

Getting Enough Fiber

According to the Mayo Clinic, men age 50 and younger need 38 grams of fiber daily and 30 grams after age 50. Women need 25 grams of fiber daily before age 50 and 21 grams after age 50.

According to Dr. Vincent M. Pedre, functional medicine certified practitioner and author of the Happy Gut, many of the chronic illnesses that are so prevalent in Americans are due to a lack of fiber.

“Fiber is the one food component that is most deficient in the American diet.  Women and men on a Standard American Diet average 10 – 15 grams of fiber daily,” says Dr. Pedre. This is less than half of what’s necessary for optimal health.

How Fiber Helps to Prevent Colon Cancer

According to Dr. Pedre, fiber is about so much more than just being regular. Specifically, it keeps gut flora in the body in a healthy balance.

“Particularly important are the butyrate-producing bacteria in the large intestine, which are supported by a high fiber diet,” says Dr. Pedre. He contends that these healthy bacteria keep the lining of the colon healthy by feeding the colonocytes, cells that line the inside of the colon, these these short-chain fatty acids. “Having enough energy (butyrate) means they can stay healthy and prevent carcinogenic transformation. Therefore, fiber works to prevent colon cancer.”

How Fiber Reduces Your Risk of Diabetes

Fiber is also well known for reducing your risk of diabetes. Here’s a closer look at how it does this, according to Dr. Pedre.

“The body uses the short-chain fatty acids ((butyrate) produced by the bacteria in the large intestine to control many internal processes, including the metabolism of sugar (glucose) and sensitivity to the hormone, insulin, which controls blood sugar levels,” says Dr. Pedre.

Why Fiber is So Important to Gut Health

Fiber passes through the gut unabsorbed and during this time, says Dr. Axe., it ferments and naturally feeds the healthy intestinal flora which will feed the gut.

“Fermentation of inulin-type fructans (fiber) in the large bowel stimulates bacteria to grow, which causes significant positive changes in the composition of the gut microflora and significant decreases in the number of potentially harmful yeast, parasites, and bacterial species living in the body that trigger inflammation,” says Dr. Axe. “Because inulin fiber is not digested by enzymes in the human body, it’s essentially ‘calorie-free.’ It winds up passing through the digestive system without being fully broken down, in the process helping to feed the good bacteria in your gut (also known as probiotics).”

How to Get More Fiber

Obviously, you need to eat a whole foods diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, but let’s go a little deeper.

  • Begin your day with a fiber boost. Consider rolled oats with berries, and a tablespoon of wheatgerm. Or make overnight quinoa with pecans, and chopped apples.
  • Pair every meal with fresh fruit or chopped vegetables. If you have trouble getting five to nine servings throughout the day, start with a fruit/veggie smoothie with kale, spinach, berries, and avocado.
  • Add in popcorn. Some fresh popped, organic kernels topped with spirulina and coconut oil can boost your fiber count big time with 4 grams per 3 cups.
  • Check the fiber content in your bread. Don’t just assume that because the package reads whole grain that it’s really high in fiber. Read packaging so you can get the most bang for your buck. Shoot for 3 grams per slice.

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Sara Novak
Sara Novak

Sara Novak is an independent journalist who reports on health, science, yoga, and travel. She was a writer for Discovery Communications from 2006-2013 and her work has been featured on Discovery Health, Popular Science, TLC, Animal Planet, What to Expect, TreeHugger, and many more. She’s also a certified yoga teacher. When she's not churning away on her laptop, she can be found atop her yoga mat or walking the beach with her husband, baby boy, and two lovable cocker spaniels.