The Benefits of Fiber for Gut Health - Nikki Yelton RD

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The Benefits of Fiber for Gut Health

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In appropriate amounts, fiber can benefit your health in many ways, including improved gut function. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of fiber!

Table with lots of vegetables that contain fiber

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Growing up, I remember my grandparents chomping down their bran cereal every morning for their daily dose of fiber. And as many of us learned as children, fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. However, does that mean we should all be eating a bowl of bran cereal daily? Not quite. In appropriate amounts, fiber can benefit your health in many ways, including improved gut function. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of fiber!

WHAT IS FIBER?

According to Harvard, “fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest.” It naturally occurs in many whole foods, like fruits and vegetables. Due to its indigestible nature, fiber passes through the stomach, small intestine, and colon, before being expelled from the body through bowel movements.

Fiber can be broken down into two main categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in liquids, creating a gel-like substance. In contrast, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in liquids. Instead, it absorbs liquid. These different types of fiber serve unique purposes, but together, promote optimal digestive function.

WHY FIBER IS SO IMPORTANT 

Despite being indigestible, fiber plays an important role in digestion and gut health. It’s known as “food for the microbiome” that feeds the healthy gut bacteria. Your body may not be able to digest fiber, but the enzymes in your gut bacteria CAN. Those good gut bugs have the right type of enzymes to digest it properly! Your microbes need energy to survive and function and because fiber reaches the intestine unchanged, it’s the perfect food source. And then, once the fiber moves through the digestive tract and is metabolized, it releases short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s). These SCFA’s have impressive anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects on the body. 

Fiber intake minimums
IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC STUDIES

A 2017 study found that the importance of fiber is connected to our gut microbes. Fiber helps good bacteria increase in number and kind. The more microbes we have in our intestines, the thicker the gut lining and the better the barrier between our body and our busy bacteria population. The barrier lowers inflammation and the bacteria also aids in digestion. When microbes are starved of fiber, they feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, triggering inflammation and disease.

Researchers also conducted a study showing that fiber can actually change the makeup of your gut. It involved 26 undergraduate students and instructors at a biology course at University of California Irvine.

In week 1, participants ate their normal every day diet and provided three stool samples for scientists to analyze. In week 2, the participants started a high fiber diet. They tracked their nutritional intake using a fitness app, aiming for 40g of fiber each day. They were provided with 10 meals each week that were high in fiber from a range of different plants. In the third week, the participants were encouraged to increase their fiber intake to 50 g per day. During this week, participants provided another three stool samples.

The researchers found that the participants’ gut microbiomes changed by around 8% following the diet changes. This was largely due to increases in bacteria known for breaking down fiber, including Bifidobacterium, Bacteroides, and Prevotella

This is why it’s so important to include fibrous whole plant foods with every meal. Also, different types of fiber feed different types of bacteria, which is why it’s also so important to get a VARIETY of fibrous foods in your diet. If you feed your gut with more diversity, it fuels diverse bacteria, leading to a more balanced and healthy microbiome. 

HEALTH BENEFITS OF FIBER 

As the studies show, fiber is an essential nutrient and has a large influence on digestive function. Without it, digestion would be inhibited, at best, and stagnant, at worst. This is why fiber can be so helpful in addressing digestive dysfunctions, like constipation and diarrhea.

In addition to its influence on digestion, there are many health benefits of fiber consumption, including:

Various benefits of fiber like reduced inflammation and regulated blood sugar
Improves Regular Bowel Movements-

Consuming adequate amounts of fiber ensures the bowels move at a healthy pace, appropriately expelling toxins and waste from the body. It absorbs water, increases the bulk of your stool, and speeds up movement through the intestine. 

Feeds the Good Gut Bacteria

Prebiotic fiber moves through the colon unchanged and feeds your beneficial microbes! Fiber is the best food for healthy gut bacteria, which helps reduce unhealthy bacteria and maintain a healthy, balanced gut microbiome. 

Aids in Detoxification

As fiber promotes regular bowel movements, it helps rid the body of toxins, waste, and more.

Produces Short Chain Fatty Acids

Eating fiber increases the production of SCFA’s, resulting in reduced inflammation in the body.

Reduces Inflammation

The production of SCFA’s help reduce overall inflammation in the body, as does optimal digestion through nutrient absorption and detoxification. 

Reduces the Risk of Chronic Disease

As fiber consumption reduces inflammation and increases digestive health, it also reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Regulates Blood Sugar Levels

Since fiber is indigestible, it helps regulate the use of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), leading to steady blood sugar levels.

Consuming adequate fiber on a regular basis has the potential to lead to improved gut function. And, as we know, all health starts in the gut! 

FIBER-RICH FOODS TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH

A fiber-filled diet is the best way to reap the benefits of fiber. Luckily, insoluble and soluble fiber can be found in many delicious, whole foods, like:

Fruits 
  • Berries, bananas, apples, avocados, pears
Leafy Green Vegetables 
  • Spinach, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts
Squash
  • Butternut squash, zucchini, pumpkin, spaghetti squash
Seeds
  • Flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seed, pumpkin seeds
Gluten Free Whole Grains
  • Sprouted quinoa, certified gluten-free oats, sprouted jasmine and basmati rice 
Root Vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes, parsnips, jiama, beets 
High fiber foods you should eat like bananas and spinach

I suggest including one fiber-rich food from a different food group with each meal throughout the day. For example, if you include strawberries in your morning smoothie, add a leafy green vegetable like spinach to your lunch, include gluten-free whole grains with your dinner, and enjoy a chia seed pudding for dessert. This ensures you’re eating diverse fiber-rich foods throughout the day.

One of my favorite fiber-rich recipes is Overnight Oats, which contains certified gluten-free oats, chia seeds, and berries.

Also, you might find when you start eating lots of fiber that you’ll experience some bloating or gas. Don’t worry… this is normal. When your gut bacteria ferments the fiber, they produce gases. These side effects usually subside as your body adjusts.

Another helpful tip to make sure you’re getting the most of your fiber intake is to make sure you’re staying hydrated! Water binds to fiber and ensures waste and toxins leave the body smoothly. Drink a glass of water at every meal and try to get half your body weight in ounces per day! 

WRAPPING IT UP

Eating a whole food, nutrient-dense diet is the first step to increasing fiber-consumption. In some cases, supplementation can be beneficial. For help creating a fiber-rich, whole food diet, check out my Monthly Meal Plan Subscription. It includes meal options for autoimmunity, gut health, and more. Sign up for your first month here!

The benefits of fiber for gut health
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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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