The health of your gut is influenced and affected by a variety of factors. From the type of food you’re eating and the amount of stress you experience on the daily, to the quality of your sleep and whether or not you’re taking dietary supplements.
One of these important factors is fiber intake and how it affects and improves your gut health. You’ve probably heard about the power of dietary fiber and how it can help cleanse your body of toxins and improve nutrient absorption, but how exactly does that work? Here’s all you have to know about fiber and gut health.
The Role of Fiber
Fiber, also called dietary fiber, is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be broken down into sugar molecules and absorbed by your body. Instead, it simply passes through your body completely undigested.
Dietary fiber exists in two main forms:
- Soluble fiber – dissolves in water and can help keep cholesterol and blood glucose levels at bay
- Insoluble fiber – does not dissolve in water and helps food move through your digestive system with much greater efficacy
There are many subtypes of both, soluble and insoluble fiber, and they can be naturally occurring or manmade, but when it comes to your gut health, the main forms are most important to note.
The main role of fiber is to pass through your digestive system and act as a prebiotic, or food for your gut bacteria that make your microbiome. Keeping a high fiber diet helps feed healthy bacteria and creates a balance your microbiome needs to stay optimized and thriving.
Dietary fiber also plays an important role in lowering inflammation throughout the body, improving insulin sensitivity, managing blood sugar levels, lowering bad cholesterol, and helping alleviate and lessen the symptoms of chronic diseases and conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune conditions, diabetes type 2, diverticulitis, and even cancer.
According to the USDA recommendations, the daily fiber intake for adults up to age 50 should be 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men, but these values depend on each individual person. For some, this number is not enough and they need more for their system to thrive, and for others it’s too much, causing gastrointestinal problems, bloating, constipation, and more.
Foods Containing High Amounts of Fiber
If you’re looking for ways to increase your fiber intake, before you reach for a fiber supplement, consider increasing your amounts of foods that naturally contain high amounts of fiber. Some of these include:
- Beans and legumes
- Broccoli and other cruciferous
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Whole grains
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Chia seeds
- Yacon root
Most of these foods can be eaten raw or need just a tiny bit of processing for your body to absorb all of its nutrients and let the fiber pass through the body, cleansing it on its way out.
It’s always best to get the right amount of fiber from whole foods as they contain a variety of other health benefits and a plethora of vitamins and minerals. However, some people cannot obtain the right amounts of fiber from food, whether it’s due to their own digestive systems or the availability of said foods. That’s where dietary fiber supplements come in, giving your body that prebiotic push you need for improving your gut health.
Fiber supplements are considered to be safe and even though they might cause bloating and constipation in the first few days of taking them, these symptoms subside over time, allowing your body to adjust to a high-fiber diet. And remember, increase your water intake when you’re increasing your fiber intake, whether through food or fiber supplements.
The Gut Microbiome
Defined as a bustling network of microbes completely unique to each and every person on the planet, the gut microbiome is an incredibly important part of the human body so much so, that it’s even labeled as a supporting organ for a number of key roles it plays in almost every daily operation.
The design of your gut microbiome starts at birth when you become exposed to the bacteria and the outside world and it keeps on building as you go through life. It also changes when you change your diet, move to a different part of the world, or suffer from an illness.
The gut microbiome consists of both, beneficial and negative bacteria that live in complete balance and harmony when your body is healthy. When that balance is disturbed and the negative bacteria outweigh the positive, that’s when your immune system gets activated and makes you prone to a variety of different diseases and complications.
The bacteria in your gut help lower your inflammation, absorb the nutrients taken from food, stimulate your immune system, synthesize minerals and vitamins, and help break down potentially harmful and toxic food compounds.
Be Careful With Fiber Amount
But before you suddenly increase your dietary fiber intake, a word of caution. Increase your fiber slowly and gradually. Many people who choose to start following a vegan or vegetarian diet report feeling bloated for days. The greatest reason for this is a sudden increase in fiber because as you can tell, it derives from plants.
The bloating and potential cramping will slowly go away, but if you take a gradual and slower approach when introducing fiber into your diet, you’ll have a much weaker response or even manage to prevent the unpleasant symptoms in the first place.
So, What Happens to Fiber?
If our bodies can’t exactly process it, what happens to the fiber? Our small intestine cannot digest fiber which makes it pass into the colon, where microbes are able to break it down. This breakdown process results in the production of short-chain fatty acids or SCFA.
Studies show how SCFA can have a huge impact on the gut-to-brain axis, as well as lower your blood sugar levels and cholesterol, promoting overall health and longevity.
Increasing your dietary fiber intake and adding more whole foods into your diet improves your overall health on all fronts, and not just your gut. The microbiota living in your gut have large and important roles in optimizing all of your body systems, so when your bacteria is in balance, that’s when the right kind of fiber that comes from real, whole foods can act as their primary food source.
Pay attention to your intake of soluble and insoluble fiber and increase it by eating high-fiber foods, just be careful not to overdo it.