Are You Starving Your Gut? You May Need More Fiber
Most people know that eating fiber-rich foods is good for preventing constipation and promoting healthy bowel movements. But many individuals don’t realize how critical fiber is to their overall health.
There is a great deal of evidence showing that diets higher in fiber are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Consumption of more fiber also supports immune function, reduces inflammation and promotes a longer and healthier lifetime (learn more in our article High Fiber May be Key to Longevity).
This may sound like fiber is being given too much credit for far too many things. But it’s not actually the fiber that’s doing all the work. It’s what happens to the fiber after it enters your digestive system.
How a Fiber-Starved Gut Damages Your Health
Believe it or not, you have trillions of microorganisms living in your gut. They make up something that scientists refer to as the “gut microbiome”. And they have a huge influence on your health.
These microbes literally feed on the fiber you eat. This, in turn, promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. When these “good” bacteria flourish, it makes you more resistant to bacteria, fungi and other organisms that cause disease.
At the same time, beneficial gut microbes produce short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites that enter your bloodstream, where they work to regulate your immune system and cut down on inflammation.
However, when your gut microbes are starved of fiber, bad things can happen. For example, when these organisms don’t get enough fiber to feed on, they might actually start chomping down on your gut mucosa — the lining of your gut. When this occurs, inflammation and disease are sure to follow.
In fact, human colonoscopies reveal that when gut bacteria enter the inner mucosal lining, it can result in intestinal inflammation, IBD, higher body mass, insulin resistance and glucose problems.
However, recent studies show that just four weeks of a high fiber diet can alter the gut microbiota in ways that reduce inflammatory markers and improve both glucose and insulin response.
A December 2017 meta-analysis not only supports these results, but also adds to them. A review of 12 randomized controlled studies showed that higher fiber intake not only improves glucose and insulin metabolism. It also helps to reduce body mass index and weight.
Eating a High Fiber Diet is Easier Than You May Think
Getting more fiber in your diet involves more than eating a bowl of oatmeal every morning. In fact, the daily recommendation is to get about 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily from food sources. (Unfortunately, today the average U.S. adult only averages about 15 grams a day, about half of the recommended amount.)
With this in mind, the best way truly increase microbial diversity is to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods that are naturally high in fiber. This includes an assortment of nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
And it’s easier than you think! Just add more beans to your soups and salads. Instead of snacking on a bag of chips, try eating a few handfuls of mixed nuts. Top your whole grain cereal or yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts and seeds. Eat an apple or banana instead of a candy bar.
Every time you make one of these changes, you’ll feed your gut the fiber it needs to support good health, improved body weight and a longer lifetime.
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Chassaing B, et al. Colonic Microbiota Encroachment Correlates With Dysglycemia in Humans. Cell Mol Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Apr 13;4(2):205-221.
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Thompson SV, et al. Effects of isolated soluble fiber supplementation on body weight, glycemia, and insulinemia in adults with overweight and obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Dec;106(6):1514-1528.
Dana Nicholas is a freelance writer and researcher in the field of natural and alternative healing. She has over 20 years of experience working with many noted health authors and anti-aging professionals, including James Balch, M.D., Dr. Linda Page, “Amazon” John Easterling and Al Sears M.D. Dana’s goal is to keep you up-to-date on information, news and breakthroughs that can have a direct impact on your health, your quality of life… and your lifespan. “I’m absolutely convinced that America’s misguided trust in mainstream medicine – including reliance on the government to regulate our food and medicine supply – is killing us, slowly but surely,” she cautions. “By sharing what I’ve learned throughout the years I hope I can empower others to take control over their own health.”