We all want to live as long as possible to enjoy our time here with family and friends. Millions of dollars each year are spent into the health and diet industry to achieve this goal. However, the answer may be a lot simpler than you think…. FIBER!!
I started this post a while back. However, a recent article in the NY Times inspired me to finish it, because, dang it, Fiber is THE BOMB! But before I go into the research, let me explain a few key concepts.
Fiber, Microbiota, Prebiotics and Probiotics
Plants contain many types of carbohydrates that our bodies do not have the ability to breakdown. These carbohydrates, or fiber, cannot be absorbed so they continue to travel through our GI tracts, which are covered in a layer of mucus. This mucus layer is home to millions of bacteria. The terms, microbiota or microbiome, refer to the entire population of bacteria species that live on the layer of mucus that lines our intestines. Certain types of these bacteria are more beneficial than others and breakdown fiber to produce compounds that our bodies are able to utilize.
The terms prebiotic and probiotic can commonly be confused. Prebiotics refers to the indigestible fiber that feeds the good bacteria, aka probiotics, in our gut. What is the common thread between all the popular “superfoods” these days like kale, ancient grains, chia seeds, blueberries, Greek yogurt, and Kombucha? They all provide either prebiotic fiber or probiotic organisms to promote a healthy gut microbiome.
Now for the Research…
Past studies have already established an observed relationship between high fiber intake and reduced risk for many diseases. However, the exact link is unknown. This new study published in the New York Times, looks at the GI tract of rats fed high fat, low-fiber diets compared to rats given high-fat, high-fiber diets. What they saw was that the rats on low-fiber diets had significant changes and reduction in the microflora of their gut, as well as inflammation in the intestine, increased body fat, and decreased immune function, when compared to rats fed a high-fiber diet.
I should note that this study focused on one type of fiber, inulin, which is found in chicory root and a popular fiber additive in commercial food products. Unlike these rats, who are fed the same food at every meal, humans consume a variety of food sources and types of fiber. More research is needed in this area. However, this study is a step towards better understanding the relationship between fiber, the gut microbiome, and our health.
THE POWER OF POOP! Doctors are starting to use fecal, or poop, transplants to treat infections of the gut by changing the microbiome. So far, most papers published on this topic have been case studies and very few clinical trials. However, the results are promising and suggest fecal transplants could become the way of the future for the treatment of gastroenteritis, IBS, Crohn’s, and other diseases. Check out this video for more information from a company that will pay you for your poop!
Here’s What We Know about Fiber…
- Increasing fiber intake lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and decreases the risk of developing coronary artery disease. 4
- People with high fiber intake have a lower risk of developing diabetes.5 For individuals with diabetes, increasing fiber intake may improve blood sugar control and lower your hemoglobin A1C.6
- High fiber intake reduces the chance of developing colorectal cancer. For patients with colorectal cancer, eating more fiber may even increase your risk of survival!7
- A high-fiber diet may be an effective weight loss tool.8 In addition to being generally low calorie, fiber-dense foods require more energy to digest. The relationship between fiber and our gut microbiome may also be a key to weight loss. Obese individuals tend to have lower fiber intakes and less beneficial gut bacteria than individuals in a healthy BMI range.9
- Eating more fiber in your diet reduces the risk of having a stroke.10
How to Increase Fiber in Your Diet
EAT MORE PLANT-BASED FOODS!! Incorporate at least one type of fruit, vegetable, whole grain, bean, legume, or seed into each meal and snack. Aim for 25-35g of fiber per day. For more guidance, check out my post on how to identify sources of whole grains, and try some of the recipes below to increase your fiber intake!
- Slow Cooker, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Acorn Squash and Bean Chili
- Caribbean Chickpea Curry
- Vegan Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos
- 3 Step Meal Prep: Roasted Vegetable, Whole Grains Bowls
- 10 Bean Salad Recipes
- Spicy Cowboy Quinoa
If your are considering trying a probiotic supplement, it’s important to do your research before wasting money on an expensive product that is potentially useless. Note, supplementation is usually only needed for a few weeks. Once the population of healthy bacteria is restored in your gut, consuming adequate fiber will ensure this population continues to proliferate. Check out this resource to find the best probiotic for you!
Follow me on Facebook or Instagram, @IslandRDN, for daily tips and inspiration!
- Cammarota G, Ianiro G, Gasbarrini A. Fecal microbiota transplantation for the treatment of Clostridium difficile infection: a systematic review. J Clin Gastroenterol.2014 Sep;48(8):693-702. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24440934
- Drekonja D, Reich J, Gezahegn S, Greer N, Shaukat A, MacDonald R, Rutks I, Wilt TJ. Fecal Microbiota Transplantation for Clostridium difficile Infection: A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med. 2015 May 5;162(9):630. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25938992
- Zimmer C. Fiber Is Good for You. Now Scientists May Know Why.2018 Jan 1. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/science/food-fiber-microbiome-inflammation.html
- McRae MP. Dietary Fiber Is Beneficial for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. J Chiropr Med. 2017 Dec;16(4):289-299. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2017.05.005. Epub 2017 Oct 25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29276461.
- Yao B et al. Dietary fiber intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a dose-response analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2014 Feb;29(2):79-88. doi: 10.1007/s10654-013-9876-x. Epub 2014 Jan 5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24389767.
- Velázquez-López L et al. Fiber in Diet Is Associated with Improvement of Glycated Hemoglobin and Lipid Profile in Mexican Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. J Diabetes Res. 2016;2016:2980406. doi: 10.1155/2016/2980406. Epub 2016 Apr 10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27144178.
- Song M et al. Fiber Intake and Survival After Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis. JAMA Oncol. 2018 Jan 1;4(1):71-79. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2017.3684. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29098294.
- Sylvetsky ACet al. A High-Carbohydrate, High-Fiber, Low-Fat Diet Results in Weight Loss among Adults at High Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. J Nutr. 2017 Nov;147(11):2060-2066. doi: 10.3945/jn.117.252395. Epub 2017 Sep 27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28954840.
- Hjorth MF et al. Pre-treatment microbial Prevotella-to-Bacteroides ratio, determines body fat loss success during a 6-month randomized controlled diet intervention. Int J Obes (Lond). 2017 Sep 8. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.220. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28883543.
- Chen GC et al. Dietary fiber intake and stroke risk: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jan;67(1):96-100. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.158. Epub 2012 Oct 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23073261.