By now, must of us are well aware that fiber is good for your gut. Fiber has been shown1 to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and constipation, not to mention it helps you to stay fuller longer which can help with weight loss. Found in fruits, vegetable, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, fiber 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 Dietary 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), noting that it is an essential building block of plant molecules like cellulose and pectins. And this gives it a unique advantage when it enters our gut.
“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," explains Dr. Axe. "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, Dr. Axe notes. 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 in the gut.
“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. You need both for a healthy gut!
How Much Fiber Should You Eat in a Day?
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. And according to Dr. Vincent M. Pedre, functional medicine certified practitioner and author of the Happy Gut, most people following the Standard American Diet are barely getting half that.
“Fiber is the one food component that is most deficient in the American diet," says Dr. Pedre. "Women and men on a Standard American Diet average 10-15 grams of fiber daily."
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After all, 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.
“Having enough energy (butyrate) means they can stay healthy and prevent carcinogenic transformation," he says. "Therefore, fiber works to prevent colon cancer.”
Fiber can also reduce your risk of diabetes, according to Dr. Pedre, by providing the fuel for bacteria to produce butyrate, which in tern controls many internal processes, including the glucose metabolism and and insulin sensitivity.
Why Fiber is So Important to Gut Health
Fiber passes through the gut unabsorbed, and during this time, says Dr. Axe, it ferments, naturally feeding the healthy intestinal flora which will, in turn, feed the gut.
“Fermentation of inulin-type fructans (fiber) in the large bowel stimulates bacteria to grow," he says, "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.”
How to Get More Fiber
If you're eating a whole food diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, you're probably already doing a great job on your fiber intake. But let’s go a little deeper to truly reap all these phenomenal health benefits.
- 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 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, and shoot for 3 grams per slice.
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