By Dr. Mercola
You've probably heard that fiber is an important part of your diet, and in all likelihood, your reasons for including foods like whole wheat bran muffins is to ensure you're getting enough fiber.
However, this is a far from ideal choice, and part of this article will be dedicated to reviewing more beneficial fiber options. I've been interested in the health benefits of fiber for a long time. I was even given the nickname Dr. Fiber by classmates when I was in medical school 33 years ago—that's how passionate I was about the benefits of fiber!
I've since come to appreciate that the type of fiber in your diet, as well as your gut health, play a major role in harnessing fiber's health potential while avoiding its potential pitfalls.
When it comes to fiber, the recommended amount is between 20 and 30 grams per day. I believe about 32 grams per day is ideal. Unfortunately, most people get only half that, or less. This despite the fact that most eat a diet that is very high in grains.
Part of the problem is that your best source of dietary fiber comes from vegetables and most people simply aren't eating enough veggies...
You'll also be hard-pressed to find any beneficial fiber in processed foods, so contrary to the advice given in the featured video, I'd advise you to refrain from adding more whole grains to your diet, as a high-grain diet promotes insulin and leptin resistance, and that's the last thing you need... There are basically two types of fiber:
- Soluble fiber, found in cucumbers, blueberries, beans, and nuts, dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer, which can help with weight control
- Insoluble fiber, found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery, and carrots, does not dissolve at all and helps add bulk to your stool. This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination
Many whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, naturally contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which serve as excellent fodder for the microorganisms living in your gut. Once regarded simply as a way to help with regularity or to aid occasional constipation, more recent research shows that dietary fiber has many other important health benefits.
For example, studies suggest a high-fiber diet can assist you in the battle against the bulge by regulating your appetite, in more ways than one. It also helps protect your heart health, and appears to reduce mortality from all causes.
A simple tip to not only increase the amount of fiber in your diet but add biodense nutrients would be to add sunflower sprouts to your meal. They work great in salads but can also be added to virtually any dish to radically improve its nutrition.
Fiber May Help Heart Patients Live Longer
One of the most recent studies1 evaluating the associations of dietary fiber intake with mortality revealed that those who ate the most fiber had a 25 percent reduced risk of dying from any cause, not just heart disease, within the next nine years, compared to those whose fiber intake was lacking.
Those who increased their consumption of fiber after suffering a myocardial infarction also reduced their risk of dying from any cause, including further cardiovascular events. As reported by Time Magazine2:
"Every increase of 10 grams of fiber each day was on average linked to a 15 percent lower risk of dying over the study period. It's the first study to suggest that heart attack patients benefited from adding fiber (found in whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables) to their daily diet...
Studies show that fiber-rich foods can combat inflammation, a potential trigger for heart attacks, as well as keep levels of LDL cholesterol, which can build up in heart arteries, down."
Previous research3 has also found an inverse association between fiber intake and heart attack, and research shows that those eating a high-fiber diet have a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease to begin with. Research published just last year also found that for every seven-grams more fiber you consume on a daily basis, your stroke risk is decreased by seven percent.4 This equates to increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables by about two additional portions per day.
How Fiber Helps Curb Your Appetite
In related news, recent research5, 6, 7 has shed new light on the mechanics behind its appetite suppressant potential. It was previously thought that you were less likely to overeat simply because fiber provides "bulk" and slows down digestion, which allows you to feel fuller, longer. However, there's more to it. As recently reported by Time Magazine,8 when microbes in your gut digest fiber, a short-chain fatty acid called acetate is released.
The fiber basically ferments, and releases acetate as a waste product—albeit a very useful one. The acetate then travels from your gut to the hypothalamus in your brain, where it helps signal you to stop eating. The appetite suppressant qualities of acetate have been confirmed through direct administration into the bloodstream, colon, and brain. As noted by the authors of the study:
"It has been estimated that the Paleolithic diet delivered >100 g per day of fiber, whereas current western intakes are only between 10 and 20 g per day. Much of the fiber consumed in the Paleolithic diet, unlike current fiber intake, would have been highly fermentable. There is a growing body of evidence that links fermentation of dietary carbohydrate (including fiber) by the colonic microbiota to positive effects on metabolism."
Other Health Benefits of Fiber
Besides its cardiovascular benefits and appetite-suppressant effects, a high-fiber diet has also been shown to address the following health issues:
Blood sugar control: Soluble fiber may help to slow your body's breakdown of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar, helping with blood sugar control
Diverticulitis: Dietary fiber (especially insoluble) may reduce your risk of diverticulitis – an inflammation of polyps in your intestine – by 40 percent9
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Fiber may provide some relief from IBS
Skin health: Fiber, particularly psyllium husk, may help move yeast and fungus out of your body, preventing them from being excreted through your skin where they could trigger acne or rashes
Hemorrhoids: A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of hemorrhoids caused by chronic constipation
Gallstones and kidney stones: A high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of gallstones and kidney stones, likely because of its ability to help regulate blood sugar
What Are the Healthiest Sources of Fiber?
If you're in need of more fiber, please resist the urge to fortify it with whole grains. While they certainly contain fiber, if you are already insulin and leptin resistant they will raise your insulin and leptin levels, which is a major driver of most chronic diseases. Besides, most whole grain products on the market are highly processed, which further deteriorates their value. Instead, focus on eating more vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The following whole foods, for example, contain high levels of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Psyllium seed husk, flax, and chia seeds ||Berries ||Vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts
|Root vegetables and tubers, including onions, sweet potatoes, and jicama ||Almonds ||Peas
|Green beans ||Cauliflower ||Beans
I'm particularly fond of organic whole husk psyllium, as it very effectively delivers both soluble and insoluble dietary fibers. Taking it three times a day could add as much as 18 grams of dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble) to your diet, which brings you quite close to the recommended minimum of 20 grams a day. Ideally, you'll want to get around 30-32 grams per day for optimal health. Soluble fibers, such as psyllium, are prebiotics that help nourish beneficial bacteria, as discussed in the video below.
These beneficial bacteria in turn assist with digestion and absorption of your food, and play a significant role in your immune function. Opting for an organic version of psyllium will prevent exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. I also recommend choosing one that does not contain additives or sweeteners, as these tend to have a detrimental effect on your microbiome. Sugar, for example, feed potentially pathogenic microorganisms, which is the converse of what you're trying to achieve.
If Your Gut Isn't Healthy, a Temporary Very-Low-Fiber Diet May Help
Speaking of gut health, if you have chronic digestive symptoms like diarrhea, flatulence, stomach pains, reflux, leaky gut syndrome, food allergies, or food intolerance, you'd be wise to implement the GAPS program. GAPS stands for Gut and Physiology Syndrome. The first part of the GAPS Introduction Diet is to remove fiber, as it feeds microbes.
While this may sound like a major contradiction to what I just said in the previous section, you need to understand that your digestive system is not designed to actually break down fiber. This task is performed by the microorganisms in your gut. Now, if your gut is filled with pathogenic bacteria and/or yeast and fungi, fiber will actually make your symptoms worse, as it is a non-specific growth factor for intestinal bacteria, and does not discriminate between pathogenic and beneficial bacteria.
The digestive system of those with GAPS is predominantly populated by pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungi, which is why fiber must be carefully eliminated from your diet for a period of time, to help starve them out. (Probiotic-rich fermented vegetables and soups with well-cooked, deseeded, and peeled vegetables, such as zucchinis and squash, are allowed in the introductory phase). If you're interested in trying this out, I highly recommend getting Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, which provides all the necessary details for the protocol.
For a Health Boost, Increase Your Fiber
While I'm no longer known as Dr. Fiber, I still hold firm to my belief in the benefits of dietary fiber as long as most of it is coming from high-quality vegetables. From alleviating constipation to controlling your appetite and keeping heart disease at bay, fiber undoubtedly contributes to overall good health and longevity. However, I do not recommend grain-based fiber sources, as this threatens your health in too many ways.
In fact, processed grains are second only to refined sugar and fructose in terms of promoting chronic disease, as grains quickly break down into sugar in your body. If there's one thing you do NOT need, it's sugar—from any source. Instead, get your fiber from vegetables, nuts, and seeds. If you still fall short of the recommended 30-32 grams per day (20 grams being a bare minimum), supplementing with organic psyllium husk can help bring you closer to this ideal amount.