Dietary fiber or roughage is a part of plant-based foods that your digestive enzymes cannot break down. Fiber passes through your digestive system relatively intact and, depending on the type of fiber, supports your health in different ways.
Forms of Fiber
Fiber is part of the macronutrient carbohydrates (other macronutrients are protein and fats) and it comes in two forms:
- Soluble fiber – This form dissolves in water to make a viscous, gel-like substance that is suitable for fermentation. Fermentation is the process by which gut microbes break down fiber. Since fiber is not digestible by gastric enzymes, they move to the intestines where they are fermented by the gut microbes. Eating soluble fiber promotes fiber-fermenting microbes in the gut. Some types of soluble fiber are prebiotics.
- Insoluble fiber – As the name suggests, this form of fiber does not dissolve in water. This is the bulky substance that is least likely to be fermented in your gut, but is very helpful in moving food forward along your gastrointestinal tract. It is linked to lower insulin resistance.
Fibrous foods usually contain both soluble and insoluble components, so eating fiber-rich foods in general is healthy for your body. A diet high in fiber helps you feel full longer, reduce food cravings, and lower blood sugar.
Body Benefits from Dietary Fiber
- Fiber Helps You Maintain a Healthy Gut
You know by now that everything starts with the gut. So a healthy gut creates a ripple effect on other parts of your system. Fermentation of the soluble fiber in the gut produces a byproduct called short-chain fatty acids. These include butyrate, acetate, and propionate. According to some animal studies, butyrate decreases appetite, alleviates obesity, and may help the pancreatic beta cells to release insulin. In other studies, people with Type 2 diabetes have lower concentrations of butyrate-producing bacteria compared to those who don’t have the disease.
Both butyrate and propionate suppress appetite by stimulating specific gut hormones. Acetate also helps decrease appetite.
Dietary fiber also helps maintain the integrity of the gut lining, a mucus layer that keeps pathogens out. Reduced fiber can cause gut microbes to start consuming the gut lining, making the gut prone to pathogen invasion and inflammation. Early research supports that low-grade inflammation in the gut lining impairs insulin-receptor signaling causing insulin resistance as well (which can lead to weight gain, blood sugar imbalance or potentially diabetes).
- Fiber Decreases Inflammation
When there is dysbiosis or imbalance in the gut microbiome, gut inflammation as well as metabolic changes occur. Fiber is important in feeding the gut microbes and in restoring and maintaining balance in the gut’s ecosystem. Some forms of dietary fiber are prebiotics, which means it serves as food to the gut bacteria and is important in balancing the anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory bacteria in the gut.
According to research by the Finnish Diabetes Prevention, people who ate more fiber have higher levels of indolepropionic acid, a chemical produced by gut bacteria which fights chemicals and regulates blood glucose.
Moreover, the short-chain fatty acids produced by fiber fermentation in the gut also contribute to decreasing inflammation in other ways.
- Fiber Improves Metabolic Function
Did you know that diets with high soluble fiber have been linked to a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes? Eating an additional 10 g per day of fiber reduces the risk of diabetes by up to 25%.
- Supports stool bulking and motility
Insoluble fiber increases the bulking of stool, making food digest more slowly. By doing this, your body extracts less calories from the food you eat.
- Chia seeds
- Lentils and other legumes
- Cruciferous veggies (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli)
- Dark-colored veggies
- Nuts and seeds (Pumpkin seeds/sesame seeds/almonds/pine nuts/pistachios/pecans/hazelnuts/macadamia nuts)
- Sweet potato
- Dried figs, prunes, apricots and dates
- Oranges and nectarines
- Whole grains like barley, oats/oat bran, amaranth, etc.
- Tofu and tempeh
I recommend slowly increasing the fiber in your diet so that your body can adjust. It’s great to eat a varied diet and listen to your body to see which fiber sources feel best to you.
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