The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
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, so they travel through your digestive system unchanged.
This begs the question, if something resists digestion and absorption, how beneficial can it really be? It sounds counterproductive to digestive health, but it is this very quality that makes dietary fiber your gut’s strongest ally.
The Three Types of Dietary Fiber
- Dissolves in water to form a gel-like material
- Can help support healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- Commonly found in oats, peas, dried beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, psyllium husk and flax seeds
- Does not dissolve in water
- Serves as a “bulking” agent, moving food through your intestines to keep you regular
- Commonly found in bran, beans, lentils, seeds, whole grains and the skins of fruits and veggies
- 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.
- Commonly found in 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
Resistant Starch: More Food For Good Gut Bacteria
Resistant starch does exactly what you think – it resists digestion in the small intestine and ferments in the large intestine, serving as food for good bacteria. In this way, it acts just like prebiotic fiber.
The benefits of resistant starch include:
- Improved digestion and overall gut health due to more beneficial bacteria
- Improved insulin sensitivity and healthier blood sugar levels
- Increased feelings of fullness
- Lower undesirable LDL cholesterol
- Prevention of constipation
Foods high in resistant starch include plantains, green bananas, raw oats, dried beans and cooked and cooled lentils, rice, oats, barley and potatoes.
Research shows that reheating cooked and cooled grains, beans and potatoes does not decrease the amount of resistant starch in these foods.
To keep your digestive system running smoothly, add more fiber-rich plants to your plate! Tend to your inner garden with a couple servings of leafy greens each day, combined with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. One of my favorite leafy green recipes is Kale Blueberry Salad with Pecan Cheese. If you didn’t love kale before, this might just change your mind!