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Digestive Health Part 2: The Role of Dietary Fiber

Digestive Health Part 2: The Role of Dietary Fiber

This is the second of a four-part series on digestive health. In the first post you learned how gut bacteria influences your health and types of fermented foods to help populate good bacteria. Today you will discover:

  • The three types of dietary fiber and examples of each
  • How many grams of fiber you should aim for in a day
  • How to best incorporate fiber into your meals to avoid unwanted side effects.

Dietary fiber is the carbohydrate portion of a plant that you can’t digest or absorb. Because humans lack the enzymes required to break them down, they travel through your digestive system unchanged. But that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit you in many great ways. In fact, by adding more whole food sources of fiber into your meals, you can fulfill the following Fx Pillars:

Pillar 1: Eat your greens, as many as you can every day
Pillar 2: Eat the rainbow, at least one fruit and two vegetables every day
Pillar 3: Dose with omega-3 fats every day
Pillar 4: Pick your protein: choose plant over fish over fowl over beef
Pillar 5: Choose whole grains, preferably sprouted
Pillar 6: Remember functional foods: fresh herbs and fermented foods

The Three Types of Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is found mostly in plant foods. They are classified as soluble, insoluble, and prebiotic.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help support healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels and is found in oats, peas, dried beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, psyllium husk, and flax seeds.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It serves as a “bulking” agent, moving food through your intestines to keep you regular. It’s found in bran, beans, lentils, seeds, whole grains, and the skins of fruits and veggies.

Prebiotic fiber is a type of fiber that healthy gut bacteria are able to digest and use as fuel to promote the growth of more beneficial bacteria. Think of it like fertilizer for good bacteria. The best sources are dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, barley, whole oats, apples, konjac root (found in shirataki noodles), cacao, jicama, flax seeds, and seaweed.

Fiber Recommendations

Most Americans fall way short on fiber. This is due to a rise in the consumption of low-fiber, processed convenience foods such as frozen meals, chips, cookies, canned foods and a dependence on take-out. To keep your gut happy and healthy, aim for a minimum of 25 grams of fiber each day—this includes soluble, insoluble, and prebiotic fibers combined. Sadly, the average American eats only a mere 15 grams a day. Why not strive to be better than average?

Avoiding unwanted “side-effects”

If you are a fiber rookie, it’s a good idea to pace yourself and gradually increase the amount of fiber you eat over several weeks to avoid bloating and gas. Also, too much fiber and not enough water can cause constipation and digestive problems, so be sure to drink extra water to keep things moving along because there’s nothing worse than a digestive “traffic jam”! ?

Food for Thought …

Don’t stress over counting grams of dietary fiber! Just add more plants to your plate, since that’s where fiber is abundantly hiding out. Here’s how to easily reach 30 grams in one day:

Breakfast: Toast two slices of Ezekiel sprouted bread and spread with half of a mashed avocado (12 grams)

Lunch: Sip on a Super Energizing Smoothie and munch on a cup of baby carrots (11 grams)

Dinner: Empty a bag of cooked shelled edamame into roasted veggie dishes when hot out of the oven (8 grams per half cup of edamame). Try this recipe for Roasted Veggies with Edamame

Snack: Apple slices (4 grams in one small apple with skin)

In the final post of this series on digestive health, I’ll share a unique type of dietary starch that acts like fiber to support not only digestive health, but also healthy blood sugar and a controlled appetite. Hint: it’s found in potatoes!

Dr. Todd Pesek, MD

By Dr. Todd Pesek, MD

Todd Pesek, M.D. is a holistic physician who specializes in disease prevention and reversal toward longevity and vital living. In addition to being Heinen’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Todd is the founder of VitalHealth Partners, a private group medical practice that focuses on preventive, integrative, holistic healthcare.

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