Fiber or Fibre?
What is fiber? What is fibre? Trick question, they are the same thing! (fibre is just the British version). Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies are unable to break down into calories therefore, it is a calorie free food. Although our bodies cannot break it down into fuel, the bacteria in our gut can! It is an essential nutrient and is recommended to consume 25-38 grams of fiber each day. Unfortunately, Americans on average consume 14-18 grams per day–that’s less than HALF of the recommended amount (~32 grams if you take the median of the range)!¹ Here are 5 reasons why it is recommended to get 25-38 grams of fiber a day:
- Bowel regularity (the most well-known benefit)
- Enough fiber and fluids in your diet help prevent constipation which is defined as “a condition in which you may have fewer than three bowel movements a week; stools that are hard, dry, or lumpy; stools that are difficult or painful to pass; or a feeling that not all stool has passed.”²
- Maintaining regularity may play a key role in the prevention of colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.4
- Promote a healthy microbiome
- Inside of your large intestines, or colon, is where a large portion of the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract live. These bacteria need fuel just like we do and there are certain types of fiber that provide that fuel.
- Research has shown that inulin and oligofrutose fibers found in chicory root are the best sources of prebiotics.² Thus, promoting a diverse and healthy microbe flora in the gut and preventing pathogenic bacteria from taking over (learn more about this subject here).
- Helps control blood sugar
- Although fiber is technically a carbohydrate, it is not able to be broken down by our bodies into sugar (glucose) due to humans not having the proper enzymes for this biochemical reaction. When chicory root fibers (a component of plant foods-inulin fibers) reach the large intestine, the fermentation process begins due to bacteria; through biochemical reactions the fibers are metabolized into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs nourish the beneficial bacteria particularly, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli strands.
- There is evidence supporting the idea that these SCFAs within the gut, liver, and pancreas can help insulin production and decrease insulin resistance; causing lower blood sugar levels. Do not confuse inulin with insulin, inulin is a fiber but insulin is a hormone needed for cells to use glucose for energy and reduce blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that the more fiber a diabetic consumes, the easier it is to manage blood sugar levels.³
- Supports strong bones (yes, fiber-not just calcium & vitamin D)
- While adequate calcium is essential to bone health due to being one of the minerals that make up bones, chicory root fibers (inulin) help support calcium absorption. As we read above, SCFAs are made by fermentation from bacteria in the colon. The presence of SCFAs in the colon help create a more acidic environment and inhibits the growth of acid-sensitive pathogens, which had been shown in studies to increase calcium absorption.4
- Weight maintenance
- When foods contain fiber they have additional volume without added calories. Therefore, they can make you feel fuller and in turn may influence you to consume less without restrictive eating.
- Furthermore, the production of SCFAs from prebiotic inulin fiber provide additional benefits. They help to increase the production of satiety hormones which aid in appetite regulation-i.e. they help influence you to consume less without feeling hungry!6
Best Food Sources of Prebiotic Fibers:
Below you will find some of the best whole food sources of prebiotics or inulin fibers.7 Some of the items listed can be found in supplemental form (in a pill) but like most things in the diet, food sources are your best sources. There are many reasons for this but one of the biggest ones is that supplements are not regulated therefore, they have the potential to contain harmful ingredients that are not disclosed or contain different items than advertised. Supplements that have the NSF international symbol are tested for safety and quality. (learn more about that here)
- Chicory root (you can find powder versions to add to foods)
- Dandelion greens (add to a salad)
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Bananas (the greener, the higher amount of inulin)
- Wheat bran
It’s imperative to increase the amount of fluids you consume when increasing the amount of fiber you consume. Otherwise, too much fiber without adequate fluid can cause worsened constipation. General recommendations for water is 8-10 cups or 64-80 ounces per day.
Additionally, if you are an individual who often deals with bloating issues then, fermentable fiber rich foods (the above list) may want to be limited. If you have bloating/digestive issues it may be wise to seek individualized advice from a healthcare professional. I know many registered dietitians who work in a private practice setting and offer nutrition counseling, I do not yet offer nutrition counseling services. I would be happy to point you in their direction if you are seeking advice. This article is meant for general education purposes. If you want a fiber-rich meals check out my recipes, all of them have sources of fiber!
- Explaining the Fiber Gap – Dietary Fiber. Dietary Fiber. https://dietaryfiber.org/explaining-the-fiber-gap/. Published July 11, 2016. Accessed December 9, 2018.
- Constipation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation
- Managing Blood Sugar with Fiber – Dietary Fiber. (2017, September 11). Retrieved from https://dietaryfiber.org/managing-blood-sugar-with-fiber/
- Fiber and Calcium – Dietary Fiber. (2017, September 19). Retrieved from https://dietaryfiber.org/fiber-and-calcium/
- How a healthy gut microbiota can help you eat less and improve your metabolism – Dietary Fiber. (2018, August 06). Retrieved from https://dietaryfiber.org/how-a-healthy-gut-microbiota-can-help-you-to-eat-less-and-improve-your-metabolism/
- How do prebiotics, in particular chicory root fiber, influence the metabolism? – Dietary Fiber. (2018, August 14). Retrieved from https://dietaryfiber.org/how-do-prebiotics-in-particular-chicory-root-fiber-influence-the-metabolism/
- What is Inulin (Chicory Root Fiber)? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2015/05/05/what-is-inulin-chicory-root-fiber