What do foods such as broccoli, peppers, bananas, and apples have in common? Sure, they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are essential to good health. The other indispensable component that they have is fiber.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about fiber. But, why is fiber so important for good health? What IS all the fuss about fiber? That is a terrific question, and I’m glad you asked.
Books can and have been written about the benefits of fiber. In this post and the next, I will distill down a few of the critical points.
You’ve probably heard that fiber can help you poop regularly. That’s true, and that is an important benefit of fiber. However, there is so much more to fiber than just helping to keep us pooping regularly.
First, it’s important to understand that our bodies cannot digest fiber, and we get no calories directly from fiber. Having said that, one of the things that fiber does is that it increases satiety. That’s right; it makes us feel full without increasing our caloric intake. That is a great thing in and of itself. Fiber also increases insulin sensitivity, which decreases the risk of diabetes. It lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. It also reduces the risk of heart disease as well as several cancers, such as colon cancer.
Now, if we can’t digest fiber, how does it work its miracles within us? Another great question—you’re on a roll. Fiber is actually the food of choice for the 39 trillion bacteria that live in our guts, also called our gut microbiome. Further discussion on that in my next post. Fun fact: 39 trillion microbes are living in our guts. Do you know how many human cells your body is made up of? About 30 trillion—give or take a trillion. Think about that—your body is likely composed of more bacterial than human cells. Amazing, right?
Moreover, we have an important relationship with these gut bacteria, and they are vital for good health. Thus, it would behoove us to give our gut bacteria what they need to thrive. And as mentioned earlier, their food of choice is fiber—many different fiber types.
Where do we get lots of different kinds of fiber? It comes from eating a variety of plant-based foods, especially whole plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, oatmeal, flaxseed, and whole wheat pasta. Fiber is only found in plant foods. Animal foods have zero fiber.
One last thing: if you currently don’t eat many fiber-containing foods and want to start, that is fantastic. However, there is an important warning. Let’s say that your only source of fiber is something like a banana a day. If you go directly from that to eating five or six servings of fiber-containing foods the next day, you will likely feel pretty bad. You may experience abdominal pain, bloating, and feel gassy. The best way to increase your fiber intake is to do it slowly. If you’re starting low, then please go slow.
Solely by the simple act of eating whole, healthy foods, we can help improve and maintain excellent health.
Next time: Fiber part II.
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