We all know we need fiber and we know foods that provide dietary fiber such as: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. For years we’ve read lists of the benefits of a diet high in fiber which include: bowel health, lower cholesterol, help in controlling blood sugar and assistance in maintaining a healthy weight. Fiber improves the health of our heart, our digestion, lowers our risks of gall stones, helps protect against strokes and even improves our skin health.
Dr. Anderson, functional medicine practitioner at Thriven Functional Medicine, said it’s important to understand the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and becomes gel-like. According to the mercola.com website, this helps slow down digestion which is one reason it helps with weight control. Soluble fiber helps us feel full longer. It includes items like cucumbers, blueberries, oats, beans, apples, citrus fruits and nuts.
Insoluble fiber does not break down and instead, passes through the body, helping material move through our digestive system. Green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery and carrots are examples of foods containing insoluble fiber. Many whole plant foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Dr. Anderson stresses that we need both kinds of fiber. She said one way to understand the difference is the kitchen sponge analogy. If you have a kitchen sponge with a green scratch pad on one side and an orange sponge on the other, Dr. Anderson said the scratch pad is the insoluble fiber, scrubbing and cleaning your digestive system. The orange sponge is the soluble fiber, absorbing and mopping things up.
Chia seeds are soluble. Brown rice is insoluble.
When we are engaged in functional medicine and seeking to improve our gut health, fiber is even more important as we work to give our body the nutrients it needs to heal a system that is damaged.
In the newsletter article on the Microbiome, we talked about probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Prebiotics are foods that feed the probiotics and these foods are, in a word, fiber.
A healthy gut needs good bacteria that can strengthen our immune system and make mucus to protect our gut lining. In order to feed this bacteria, we need to eat plant fiber, every day, in every meal.
Jeff Leach, a scientist for the American Gut Project, explained that there is a huge variety of bacteria in the gut and we don’t yet know which bacteria eat which kind of fiber. Because of this, we need to eat a diversity of fiber, hoping to feed the diversity of microbes. Because we want all types of good bacteria, we need to eat a quantity and diversity of fiber.
Leach said he eats between 50 to 150 grams of fiber a day and tries to eat 20 – 30 specimens of plant a week. Quantity and diversity. Most of us might have a hard time eating like Leach but Dr. Anderson recommends 45 grams a day or more. Forty-five grams or more for gut health, heart health and overall well-being.