Eat more fiber. It’s the advice that you’ve probably heard at least a millions times in your life – or so it seems. From your annual doctor visit to your favorite health blog, the topic of fiber comes up time and time again. Fiber is most famous for its effects on digestive health, but you might be surprised at all the ways adequate fiber intake supports your overall health and beauty. Let’s take a look at this nutritional miracle worker and find out why you really do need more of it in your life.
What Is Fiber Really?
Dietary fiber is a plant based nutrient found in ample amounts in foods like beans, berries, broccoli and all sorts of other delicious fruits, vegetables and grains. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but the beauty of it is that it doesn’t break down into digestible sugar molecules like other types of carbs. Instead, fiber passes through your digestive tract mostly intact, which is why we often refer to it as roughage or bulk. This mechanism works well for fiber because unlike other nutrients, it doesn’t need to break down completely to do its work.
There are two different forms of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber does dissolve – but only partially – within the digestive tract to form a gel like substance. Insoluble fiber doesn’t change much from its originally form. Each type of fiber performs different functions. For example, insoluble fiber goes into the digestive tract and sweeps everything along, not only keeping you “regular,” but also working to remove toxins and other nasties along the way.
Another important function of fiber is that it provides a fuel source for gut bacteria. Your gut is home to billions of bacteria that keep your digestive system, and your entire body, healthy. There is a combination of good and bad bacteria in there, and when things are going as they should, the good bacteria easily outnumber the bad and keep everything in check. However, the types of foods you eat can affect this balance.
For example, a diet that’s low in fiber, but high in sugar is going to promote a healthier environment for the bad bacteria to thrive off of, making it hard for the good guys to keep them in check. Fiber builds up the “muscles” of good bacteria, making them stronger against those that aren’t so friendly.
So, does adequate fiber do anything besides prevent tummy troubles? Absolutely. In fact, fiber consumption is the first step in a long process that protects your body from many types of disease.
Fiber and the Inflammation Connection
One of the main ways that fiber works to protect your health is through calming system wide inflammation. What many people don’t realize is that there is an incredible connection between what happens in the gut and the rest of your body. But, when you think about it, it starts to make sense.
The gut is where food is broken down, digested and where nutrients are absorbed. All your efforts to protect your health through a nutritious diet start in the gut. In order to properly absorb nutrients, the gut needs to be healthy and that means a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
But, we can take this one step further and connect fiber to the immune system and reduced levels of inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the culprit behind many of the chronic diseases our society suffers from today. From arthritis to diabetes and cancer, inflammation is involved in the development of these diseases and more. If we can find a way to reduce chronic inflammation, then we’re one step closer to maintaining the level health needed to enjoy the benefits of longevity.
Fiber plays a crucial role in lowering inflammation. According to scientists at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, fiber accomplishes its inflammation-fighting success by fostering a healthy microbiome in our gut. It turns out that the beneficial bacteria in our gut feeds off fiber, and when our intestinal flora is healthy it increases the ability of our immune system to ward off inflammation.
Several studies have looked at the amount of fiber in diets compared to the amount of inflammation that was present. What these studies found was that people who ate a high fiber diet had lower levels of C-reactive protein – a marker for inflammation that’s present in most inflammatory conditions – in their blood.
If you really needed more encouragement to include more fruits, vegetables and other fiber rich foods in your diet, this is it.
Fiber and Health
We’ve seen the evidence that suggests that fiber is important for protecting and building your health in so many incredible ways. If we were to list every possible benefit, we’d be here all day. Since you’ve probably got other things to do, like eating a fiber-rich power bowl for lunch, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts and list all the ways that fiber is important to your overall health.
- Fiber helps lower cholesterol
- Fiber helps to regulate blood sugar levels - something that’s crucial in preventing diabetes
- Fiber helps fight and control existing diabetes
- Fiber slows down digestion and helps regulate metabolism
- Fiber can aid in weight loss and weight maintenance
- Fiber reduces the risk our nation’s number one killer – heart disease
- Fiber reduces the risk of suffering a stroke
- Fiber can soothe and relieve symptoms of IBS and IBD
- Fiber has been connected to a reduced risk of some cancers
- Fiber can strengthen bones, especially in post-menopausal women
- Fiber boosts the immune system
- Fiber may prevent or reduce the severity of food allergies and asthma
Fiber and Beauty
With all the above benefits of fiber, you really shouldn’t need anymore convincing, but we’re going to provide a little extra incentive anyway – fiber is also great for your skin.
Inflammation plays a major role in many skin woes. From inflammatory skin conditions like acne and psoriasis, to premature aging and undereye circles, fiber is important for treating them all.
For example, in addition to its anti-inflammatory benefits, certain types of fiber- like psyllium husk – help to remove fungus and yeast from the body rather than them being excreted through the skin. When left to their own devices, excess fungus and yeast can cause havoc on the skin in the form of acnes and rashes.
The same “sweeping” power of fiber also helps prevent, or at least slow down, those first signs of aging. Everyday your skin is exposed to toxins, pollutants and dirt. Overtime, the exposure to environmental elements can weaken the skin’s support and defense structures. Adequate fiber intake helps your body eliminate more of these toxins and debris before they have the chance to do their damage.
Plus, there’s the simple fact that nutrients are crucially important to skin and hair health, and a diet rich in fiber allows your body to absorb more of them so that you radiant health from the inside out.
How Much and Where?
The shift in dietary preferences towards fast and easy processed foods has left many of us shamefully deficient in fiber intake. True, many processed foods claim to be fortified with fiber, but depending on these foods alone is unlikely to provide you with enough fiber on a daily basis to experience the benefits.
For example, current guidelines recommend 14g of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. This averages out to about 25-27g of fiber for women and 35-38g for men. That “high fiber” muffin and fiber fortified pasta might not add up to more than 5g altogether. This is why so many people think they are doing good by eating a high fiber diet, but upon closer inspection find that they aren’t taking in even half of the recommended amount.
So, where’s the best place to find fiber rich foods. The short answer to this is in nature. Plant based foods provide some of the best sources of soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Whole Grains – Good choices include old fashioned oatmeal (not the pre-sweetened or instant variety), whole grain bread, quinoa, brown rice and whole grain pasta. Consider making oatmeal a breakfast staple and incorporating some whole grains into your summer salads.
- Legumes - Lentils and almost every type of bean are also fiber powerhouses. These inexpensive sources of protein can be a complete meal with the addition of a vegetable.
- Fresh vegetables – Most fresh veggies are great sources of fiber. Some of the best include broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, avocados, carrots, and squash.
- Fresh fruit – Think apples, oranges, bananas and berries. They are delicious and good for you, and many fruits are at their peak during the summer.
- Nuts and seeds – Rethink your snacking. Try walnuts or almonds for a mid-afternoon snack. Add seeds like chia seeds and flax seeds to salads or sprinkle on top of oatmeal.
A Little Inspiration
Even if you love all of these plant based foods, the idea of consuming a cup of berries or eating lentils everyday can leave you in a bit of a dietary rut. High fiber doesn’t need to be boring. Check out these high fiber recipes for a little creative inspiration.
Grilled Pineapple and Artichoke Quesadillas
2 fresh pineapple rings, each about ½ inch thick
1 cup artichoke hearts
½ cup canned green chilies, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup fresh cilantro
8 whole wheat flour tortillas
¼ cup chevre cheese
1 ½ cup montery jack cheese
- Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill over medium heat (these recipe can easily be adapting for an oven or skillet).
- Brush the pineapple and artichoke hearts with olive oil.
- Sprinkle the pineapple with juice from the lime and season with the cumin.
- Place the pineapple and artichoke hearts on the grill, just long enough to produce a light char. If necessary, place a piece of foil under the artichoke hearts to prevent them from falling through.
- Remove the pineapple and artichokes from the grill and set aside to cool, then cut into bitesize pieces.
- Meanwhile, spread the chevre cheese on one side of 4 of the tortillas.
- Next, top each of the tortillas with an equal portion of green chilies, pineapple, artichoke hearts, monetary jack cheese and cilantro. Place one of the remaining tortillas over the top of each.
- Carefully place the quesadillas onto the grill and cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until lightly charred with the cheese melted.
- Remove and let sit for a minute before cutting into quarters and enjoying. Makes approximately 4 servings.
Super Sneaky Berry Blast Smoothie
1 cup blackberries
1 cup cherries pitted
½ cup carrots, shredded
½ cup broccoli, chopped
1 mango cubed
1 medium avocado, cubed
1 tablespoon chia seeds
½ - 1 cup coconut water, depending on preferred consistency
- Place all ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth. Transfer into well chilled glasses and enjoy. Makes approximately 4 servings.
The Beauty of a High Fiber Diet
No matter what the season, you’ll always be able to find natural, delicious high fiber foods. It’s all about choosing to nourish your body with natural, wholesome foods instead of processed options. Fiber rich foods play a crucial role in your health, which leave you feeling and looking your absolute, most beautiful best.