Regarding superfoods, it is common for individuals to look for foods high in everything from omega-3 fatty acids to antioxidants to vitamin K. Protein, polyphenols, and probiotics are other valued, commonly valued, and commonly touted properties, but what about fiber? Sure, fiber makes the list of beneficial ingredients at some point, but are we giving it enough credit? We think not. To understand why, consider the correlation between fiber and gut health.
How Fiber Supports Gut Health
At the most basic level, fiber normalizes bowel movements. The more fiber you consume, the heavier and more prominent your stools become. They also become softer. As your stools grow denser but softer, they become easier to pass, decreasing constipation risk. If your stools are loose and watery, fiber helps solidify them by absorbing water. Either way, the result is easier to digest food and pass waste.
Another way fiber supports gut health is that it reduces the risk of digestive tract issues. A fiber-rich diet can help prevent two common problems: hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer.
How Much Fiber Do You Need Daily?
How much fiber you need daily depends on size, weight, and gender. The Mayo Clinic specifies the following daily recommendations for fiber and gut health:
- Adult women under 50 years of age = 25 grams
- Adult men under 50 years of age = 38 grams
- Adult women over the age of 50 = 21 grams
- Adult men over the age of 50 = 30 grams
This fiber should come from foods, not supplements. However, the average daily dietary fiber intake is around 15 grams for all adult Americans.
Benefits of a High Fiber Diet
A higher fiber day is essential to overall gut health. However, it has benefits that extend beyond healthy bowel movements and a reduced risk of hemorrhoids, such as the following:
- Reduced Cholesterol: Certain soluble fibers, such as those found in oats, beans, oat bran, and flaxseed, may lower the “bad” cholesterol levels in your blood and your total blood cholesterol levels. They may also contribute to heart health by reducing inflammation and blood pressure.
- Weight Management: Foods high in fiber tend to be more filling than those lower in the nutrient, meaning you are likely to stay fuller longer despite eating less. Moreover, because fibrous foods are less “energy dense” than others, you can eat the same volume of food as, say, a taco but still consume fewer calories.
- Improved Blood Sugar Levels: Fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar, particularly in people with diabetes. If you have diabetes, are prediabetic, or worry about your sugar intake, fiber can help.
- Increased Longevity: One of the most notable benefits of a fibrous diet is increased longevity. Though several factors influence longevity, recent studies suggest that a diet high in fiber is associated with a lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and all cancers.
Fiber & Gut Health FAQs
What is Dietary Fiber?
Unlike other food components, fiber is a “roughage” that the body cannot digest and absorb. Instead, it passes through the digestive tract and into the colon to assist with the stool formation process.
What Foods are High in Fiber?
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and other legumes are all high in fiber.
Do Fiber Supplements Work?
Foods naturally rich in fiber, or even fiber-fortified foods, generally have far more health benefits than supplements. However, supplements may be necessary if dietary changes do not clear up issues such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, or diarrhea.
Dietary fiber is the best kind of fiber. However, if you or a loved one need support correcting gut issues even after adding high-fiber foods to your diet, consider adding a trusted supplement to your regime today.