Fiber might be the most undervalued part of our diets. Eating more fiber is linked to better health, lower risk of disease, and even a reduced risk of death, say, researchers. Are you getting enough fiber? Recent evidence is transforming the way we look at fiber. Here’s what you will want to know.
There are two types of fiber worth discussing: insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber sweeps the bowels improving your visits to the porcelain throne. Soluble fiber turns into a gel-like substance that gut-microbes breakdown.
Fiber does not offer the body nutrients. In fact, the human body cannot even produce the enzymes to break fiber down. So, how is fiber helpful to you? Your gut’s microbes create enzymes that break down fiber, creating short-chain fatty acids that colon cells use as fuel, therefore benefitting the gut’s environment.
Westernized societies eat a diet that is radically different than our ancestors: low fiber, high ultra-processed foods. Without fiber, the gut microflora struggle. Mounting evidence shows the gut’s microbiome regulates appetite, metabolism (impacting insulin sensitivity), cholesterol levels (cardiovascular health), and inflammatory pathways.
Plus, fiber is vital to gut motility – an aspect of everyday life everyone can attest is important to feeling good. The benefits of fiber are even farther reaching: studies suggest a link exists between how much soluble fiber you eat and your risk of dementia.
No, eating more whole, plant-based foods may even do the opposite, says research. High-fiber foods, such as whole, plant-based foods, promote satiety. Oatmeal is noted in studies as an ideal food to include in a weight loss plan: oatmeal is high in beta-glucan and suppresses energy intake in subsequent meals.
Research showed just 2 weeks of eating more fiber beneficially impacts a person’s gut microbes. Having a robust, diverse probiotic population in your gut has been linked to better digestive health, lower inflammation, healthier body weight, improved mood, reduced cholesterol, better blood sugar control, and lower cancer risk in the colon.
The most obvious signs of a lack of fiber in your diet include constipation or infrequent bowel movements. However, high cholesterol, frequent hunger (particularly after eating), weight gain, and low energy can also be signs that your diet does not include enough fiber.
Recommendations by Health Canada are for women to get 25 grams of fiber per day and men 38 grams of fiber. Most Canadians only get about half of the recommended amount of fiber.
Perhaps the best part of eating whole, plant-based foods is that they provide your body with fiber. These plants are some of the best sources of dietary fiber:
There are risks in low fiber diets. It is an important public health message to encourage people to eat more fiber from whole, plant-based foods to improve their metabolic and overall health. In over 100,000 middle-aged participants, researchers found those with a higher intake of dietary fiber had lower risks of death and non-communicable diseases (e.g. heart disease, pancreatic cancer).
The health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrients 2020 Oct; 12(10): 3209.
Dietary fiber intake and risk of incidence disabling dementia: the Circulatory Risk in Communities Study. Nutr Neurosci 2022.
Fiber intake predicts weight loss and dietary adherence in adults consuming calorie-restricted diets: the POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study. Journal of Nutrition 2019 Oct; 149(10): 1742-1748.
Eat fiber, live better! American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2020 July; 112(1): 5.
High-fiber, whole-food dietary intervention alters the human gut microbiome but not fecal short-chain fatty acids. Microbial Biology 2021 Mar.
Contributed by Allison Tannis
Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.