It’s no secret that fiber is incredibly important for our overall health. Read any blog on fiber and you’ll hear, ”Make sure you’re getting enough fiber!” But when it comes down to it, what is fiber and why is it that it’s so helpful for our digestion and overall health?
Dietary fiber is a plant-based nutrient and refers to the edible parts of plants and carbohydrates that cannot be digested by our bodies. Since it can’t be broken down, it travels through the small and large intestines primarily intact, to then which it passes out through the stool. You may be thinking, “Wait, so a food I can’t even digest is supposed to be a part of my daily diet?!” Let me explain…
Fiber plays two roles in our bodies. First, although our human cells don’t digest it, our beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts DO, so it serves as a crucial food to keep our microbiome healthy and happy. After all, we are made of more bacteria cells than human cells, so in that lens, we NEED to be feeding our microbiome! Second, because fiber travels through the digestive tract intact, it acts as a broom, sweeping out toxins and matter. This helps with detoxification and digestion. This is why you often read that fiber is helpful if you’re dealing with constipation or irregular bowel movements.
Fiber contains zero calories since it essentially can’t be digested, and although it’s found in carbohydrate foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains, it doesn’t contribute any carbs to our diets.
Soluble fiber, which can be found in oats, peas, apples, carrots, flaxseed, lentils, citrus fruits and psyllium. These foods can be dissolved in water. It’s benefits may include lowering blood sugar and glucose levels.
Insoluble fiber. This is the fiber you’re likely being told to have more of. It provides a cleaning and sweeping of material through the colon and contributes to healthy bowel movements. Insoluble fiber can be found in nuts, brown rice, beans, and various vegetables such as cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, and most root veggies.
Of note: If you have tested positive for SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) it is recommended to avoid fiber until the SIBO is resolved as it can feed the pathogenic bacteria in the small intestine, making the issue worse. Or, if you know you feel worse when you eat fiber (bloating, gas, abdominal pain, rapid bowel transit time) that is a sign you either had too much fiber, potentially have SIBO, or have a food sensitivity to some fiber-rich foods you ate. If that is the case, please get in touch if you would like to run functional lab tests that can identify if you may have SIBO or other gut infections or food sensitivities that could be causing this. It’s important to know this before proceeding with a high fiber diet if you have a history of symptoms when consuming fiber.
Now for the good news! Fiber is incredibly easy to add to your diet. While there are many fiber supplements on the market today, you can usually get all the fiber you need in a day from food alone. Select a few foods from the list below as they work for your body and see how you feel! There are many more but this is a great start for particularly high fiber foods.
Another thing to be mindful of is not to consume artificial forms of fiber. There are a lot of things on the market today that advertise being full of fiber but are really loaded with preservatives, sweeteners, and fillers. This is the OPPOSITE of what our body needs in order to promote healthy digestion! So please, do your best to steer clear from artificial sweeteners, protein bars, refined flours, cereals, and other manufactured products by looking at the ingredient labels or asking your health professional (or myself) for a recommendation.
Here is an excellent recipe that I love making for an extra boost of fiber for my belly! Jerusalem artichokes are full of prebiotic fibers, plus my recipe is loaded with the anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin (turmeric) so it’s an especially beneficial recipe for digestion.
I also love this flax tea! It’s not only warming which is great for digestion but also full of fiber.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Fiber is best absorbed by water. So, when you’re coming fiber, make sure to also consume room temp or warm water.
In my popular Love Your Gut group program, we discuss not only how to safely increase fiber in your diet but how to take all areas of digestion into consideration so you can move past symptoms and finally feel squeaky clean and smooth sailing! Hop on over to programs.thrivebyfood.com/p/loveyourgut for more information and to see if the program for you (hint: it’s always the right time to work on digestion – our gut is the core of ALL of our health!)
Let me know which fiber-rich foods you plan to try in the comments below!
Kristin Thomas is a health coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner specialized in helping women with hormone, digestion, and autoimmune health concerns. Having gone through these health challenges herself, she now helps clients find their own path to complete wellness through practical and natural diet and lifestyle changes.
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