You’ve heard the advice “Eat more fiber.” And I’m sure you’ve noticed the terms “high fiber” and “good source of fiber” on food labels everywhere. You probably know that fiber “helps you poop” when your bowels are sluggish.
Fiber is also extremely important for your dog. Read about that here!
You might have even heard that fiber is good for your heart—but did you know that a high fiber diet has been found helpful in reducing the risk and/or severity of many other conditions?
The How and Why of Dietary Fiber
Fiber Adds Bulk
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber acts like a sponge and helps soak up waste and toxins in the digestive tract, while insoluble fiber helps to “scrub” the colon free of debris and promote healthy elimination. Soluble fiber expands when it takes on water, which bulks up the stool as it passes through the digestive tract. And insoluble fiber remains intact throughout the entire digestive system, helping stool to maintain its form. When the stool is “bulky,” it is more easily passed through the intestines, helping to keep bowel movements regular.
Fiber Gets You Moving
When well-formed stool passes more easily through the digestive tract, it actually moves more quickly than without it. This shortened transit time is thought to contribute to the protective effects of fiber since carcinogenic compounds in stool are passed out of the body more quickly (instead of hanging out in the colon, damaging the intestinal lining).
Fiber Boosts Protective Gut Bacteria
Perhaps one of the most amazing benefits of dietary fiber is how research has shown us that it supports a healthy microbiome. Your microbiome is the family of bacteria and microbes that reside in your digestive system. Beneficial bacteria known as probiotics in the digestive tract interact with soluble fiber (fermentation) as it passes through the intestines, producing a number of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Essentially, fiber is food for probiotics!
One SCFA that is particularly well researched, butyrate, is widely known to inhibit colorectal tumor growth. Butyrate provides fuel for the cells of your gut lining, supports immune system functions of the colon wall and protects against certain diseases of the digestive tract.
There are additional SCFAs that assist in other important functions (to be covered in a future blog). The important point here is – probiotics require adequate amounts of dietary fiber to create SCFAs. SCFAs then perform their jobs to keep your digestive tract, along with the rest of your body, healthy and at top function.
High Fiber Foods vs Low Fiber Foods
You may think that you’re getting plenty of fiber, but sadly, you may not be.
Track your fiber intake for a few days. Foods with labels will have fiber amounts noted. For unpackaged fruits and vegetables, you can Google “fiber content [food]”. The fiber content will be listed in grams. Create a goal of 35 grams per day, with no less than 25 grams daily.
Truth is, we could all use more fiber in our diets, but with so many different high fiber foods, it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s an interesting list of 22 high fiber foods that may spark your creativity. Most fruits and vegetables contain a blend of soluble and insoluble fiber and are the healthiest way to increase your fiber intake. Consuming five to ten servings of low-sugar fruits and non-starchy vegetables will help get you to your goal of 35 grams daily (what I’ve been recommending for years). You can add legumes, nuts, and certain non-gluten grains (in moderation!), but let the fruits and vegetables make up most of your fiber intake.
My favorite trick to pack a lot of fiber into one serving is to make a blended green drink. It’s the perfect way to enjoy your veggies. You can include seasonal (or frozen) fruits to spike up the enjoyment. Adding a high fiber protein powder can transform your blended drink into a quick and filling meal. And the bonus is, you’re supporting your microbiome too!
See what you can do to up your fiber intake to 35 grams each day. Your entire body, and especially your colon, will thank you.