In the United States we often do not eat as much fiber as we should. We eat white bread, white rice, white pasta, and white baked goods. Protein is the most popular macronutrient and is highly over consumed, fruit and vegetables often overshadowed by meat. But overconsuming protein is not good for us, protein has no proper way to be stored in the body for later use, and is instead stored as fat. Fiber is very important for our health. It greatly reduces the risk of disease and premature death.
The first thought when it comes to fiber is that it aids in digestion. The strong cellulose cells scrub out the digestive tract and push any resistant stool towards the exit. Fiber reduces constipation, tightens stool, and cleanses the body from lingering substance. This helps digestion move more quickly and limits excess caloric intake.
Fiber uses its strong structure to help us feel full. When the stomach stretches, there is a signal sent to the brain that indicates fullness. Processed foods and foods with low to no fiber do not have the same structure and collapse down much more easily. That’s part of why processed foods don’t feel as filling even when they are calorie-dense. So if you are looking for ways to make your meals feel more filling, make sure you are eating enough fiber.
It might seem counterintuitive for something that isn’t digested to be so important, but there is a little more to the story. There is a whole ecosystem of bacteria living inside the body. According to Harvard Health, there are roughly 100 trillion bacteria living just inside your digestive system or gut. For all intents and purposes here we can think of this bacteria in two categories: good bacteria and bad bacteria. The good bacteria can reduce the risk for and sometimes reverse many common diseases, while the bad bacteria can cause autoimmune diseases, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, bloating, diarrhea and heartburn. The National Center for Biotechnology Information explains that the good bacteria have enzymes that actually do break down fiber, accounting for up to 10% of your calories. But these bacteria don’t just make it so that we can digest fiber, they need it too. According to Scientific American, good gut bacteria live off fiber and need it to survive. Without enough fiber in your diet, these good bacteria will start to die (allowing the bad bacteria to take over) and feed off the protective lining of the gut, causing inflammation and possibly disease.
Soluble fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, lowing the glycemic index and stabilizing blood sugar levels. High fiber diets are preferable for those with diabetes, and a diet rich in insoluble fiber may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. This also helps to maintain a healthy pH, which is important because the human body only operates normally within a very narrow range, from 7.35-7.45.
So where do you get fiber? Fiber is found in plant foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are all good sources of fiber. Processed foods may still contain a small amount but most of the fiber is usually removed. This includes but is not limited to white bread, white rice, white pasta, many breakfast cereals, and white flour. Any foods that come from animal sources do not contain any fiber. To get fiber, think plants, and think whole, unprocessed (usually unpackaged) foods.
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Mayo Clinic Staff. (16 Nov. 2018). “How to Add More Fiber to Your Diet.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983.
“Schedule Your Appointment Online.” Family Physician Shares Signs of Poor Gut Health | Piedmont Healthcare, www.piedmont.org/living-better/signs-of-poor-gut-health.