Fiber is the single most important factor for the health of your gut microbiome. People often ask: "If I was going to add one thing, what would you recommend?" and the answer is: "Start with fiber!"
Fiber is the single most important thing that you can add to your diet for better digestion, skin, immunity, and energy.
Fiber is found in plant-based foods like: vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, tubers, beans, legumes, and whole grains. There are two types of fiber: soluble (which dissolves in water), and insoluble (which does not dissolve in water). Both play really important roles with regards to our gut health. See my earlier post on the two different types of fiber here.
5 Reasons to Love Fiber
1. Fiber Feeds Your Gut Microbiome
Your body has more bacterial cells than human cells and most of these bacteria are in your large intestine. These bacteria are a god thing, as they help to regulate everything from your mood to your immune system, and of course - they keep digestion working happily.
These bacteria need food to do their jobs. So what do they eat? You guessed it: fiber. The more fiber you consume, the happier and healthier your gut microbiome will be.
2. Fiber Keeps You Full
One of the factors that tells your GI tract to signal to your brain to stop eating, is how much your stomach has expanded. Fiber is bulky so it fills you up faster and helps you regulate your hunger and fullness cues, compared to highly processed, low fiber foods.
A simple swap like using high fiber pasta in place of refined white pasta can make a big difference in how your body responds to a meal, and how full you feel after eating.
3. Fiber Supports Blood Sugar & Metabolism
Fiber is actually not digestible for humans, but it usually comes in with nutrients your body loves. Because of this, your body has to work hard to separate the fiber from the nutrients.
This work slows the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing blood sugar spikes and dips (also preventing those nasty sugar cravings!) A high fiber diet can even prevent Type 2 Diabetes from developing.
When you pair fiber with protein and fat at every meal, you are setting yourself up to have more balanced blood sugar throughout the day. This means more stable moods and energy, which can help with focus and decision making throughout the day.
4. Fiber and bowel movements
The one thing we all know for sure about fiber, it makes for regular bowel movements!
Certain fibers naturally add bulk to your stool, making it both easier to pass, and increasing the frequency. It is important to at least have one bowel movement daily so, if you are not getting this, scroll down to the bottom of this blog for some tips on how to resolve constipation.
5. Fiber is Your "Daily Detox"
Fiber makes for regular bowel movements, and bowel movements are also your body's favourite way to detox unwanted substances. It actually binds with excess cholesterol and estrogens and removes them from your body.
Instead of following a crash diet "detox" or drinking a "detox tea," fiber supports your body's favourite detoxification pathway (the good ol’ fashion bowel movement way!).
How to Get More Fiber in Your Life
Most people nowadays are getting in less than 20 grams of fiber on a daily basis. However, many evolutionary biologists and anthropologists suggest that humans were eating around 100 grams per day when we were living as hunter gatherers.
So how much should you be eating? Aim for a minimum of 35 grams in on a daily basis. Below is a list of simple tips to help you reach this goal without fudding too much over counting grams and tracking foods!
When it comes to increasing fibre, there are a lot of common mistakes:
Going straight to fibre supplements rather than optimizing the diet
Increasing fibre without ensuring proper hydration
Inconsistent fibre with one super high-fibre meal per day rather than fibre with each meal
Increasing fibre too quickly
These mistakes can lead to bloating and actually make constipation worse! Instead, try this:
Focus on getting 6-9 servings of veggies and fruit per day, which will naturally increase your fibre intake
Increase your fibre intake by one serving per day over a couple weeks so your body can adjust
Strategically add food-based fibres like ground flax and chia if you need more support
Ensure your fibre intake is balanced throughout the day, rather than trying to jam it all into a smoothie
Types of fiber you can incorporate into your diet
Eat 2 Tablespoons of Ground Flax/Chia Daily
Seeds like chia and flax are a great way to increase the amount of fiber you get, without really noticing it. You can rotate between the two or make a 50/50 mixture. Ideally, grind your seeds fresh and store them in the fridge but you can also buy pre-ground chia and flax.
Here are a few ways to sneak ground flax/chia in:
Add to applesauce as a snack
Toss into a smoothie
Sprinkle over yogurt with berries
Stir into juice and drink immediately
Optimize your Carbohydrates
Legumes like beans and lentils are high in protein, but they are primarily carbohydrates. Instead of limiting these foods to the protein portion of your meal, make them a go-to carb. A cup of chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, black beans, peas, split peas, can offer somewhere between 10-15 grams of fiber.
Here are some ways to get more legumes in your life:
Swap half your rice for lentils
Use roasted chickpeas instead of croutons
Choose bean-based pastas
Blend white beans into potato soup
If you have a hard time digesting legumes, try soaking them for 12 hours before cooking. This makes a huge difference in digestion. Start with small amounts, just a few tablespoons per day, and increase as your body adjusts.
Reach for Berries Daily
Berries are truly amazing! Not only are they packed with gut-loving fiber, they are also high in polyphenols that give your gut bacteria an extra boost. Eating a cup of berries in each day can help to increase your fiber intake, and fight oxidative stress.
Blackberries and raspberries are highest in fiber, blueberries are packed with extra polyphenols for happy gut bacteria. When they are not in season or available locally, you can buy frozen berries and add them to oats, yogurt, and smoothies.
Boost Your Baked Goods
Baked goods can be a sneaky way to boost your fiber intake!
Here are a few ingredients to stock in your pantry for high fiber baking:
Psyllium husk or powder
Ground flax seed
Black beans (Link to my black bean muffins)
Swapping highly-processed and refined snacks that might be lacking in fiber with fiber-rich foods can satisfy your snack craving and score you all the benefits of fiber.
Here are a few high fiber snack ideas:
Hummus with veggies and seed crackers
Chia-pudding topped with fruit
Overnight oats topped with berries
Muffins made with ground flax
End Note - Constipation tips:
1. SLOW DOWN & CHEW YOUR FOOD
2. HYDRATE: Your hydration target is half of your bodyweight (lbs) in ounces of hydrating beverages like water and herbal tea per day. For example, a 160lb person should shoot for 80 ounces of water and/or herbal tea throughout the day.
3. INCREASE FIBER (see above)
4. NUTRIENTS: Some nutrients in supplement form can also be helpful for reducing constipation - two that stand out here are Magnesium Citrate and Vitamin C.
a. Magnesium Citrate: This supplement helps by bringing water into the stool, hydrating it and making it easier to pass. For most people 200-400 mg before bed is enough to provide gentle, non-habit-forming support. You can adjust based on your bowel tolerance, increase slowly to find the right dose for your own body. If magnesium citrate is too powerful for you, magnesium bisglycinate may be a better form. If citrate is not helping, magnesium oxide is more powerful.
b. Vitamin C: Since Vitamin C is poorly absorbed in supplement form, much of it stays in the GI tract and attracts water, similar to magnesium. Taking about 1,000 mg before bed can provide gentle overnight support. This can be adjusted based on your bowel tolerance by taking 1,000 mg with a glass of water every hour until you go.
Bonus Tips to Try:
Elevate your knees above your hips on the toilet to put yourself in the proper anatomical position for pooping. A Squatty Potty or small stool is all you need for this.
Space out meals by 3-4 hours to allow your migrating motor complex time to do it's job and move the contents of your GI tract along.
Fast overnight for about 12 hours (8 PM to 8 AM for example). This is when your migrating motor complex is most active.
Try probiotics or prebiotics to support your microbiome.
Gargle water twice per day (after brushing your teeth) for about 30 seconds, until your eyes tear up. This stimulates your vagus nerve which impacts motility.
Consider an elimination diet to determine potential food triggers.
If possible, work with a professional and get a GI-MAP test when these strategies are not working. You may be dealing with a bacterial overgrowth or other GI imbalance contributing to your constipation.
Note: Always check with your doctor or trusted health professional before making dietary changes or adding supplements or herbs. This is especially important if you have any diagnosed health condition are taking any medication, or are pregnant/breastfeeding.
This has been adapted from a blog by Ashley Sauvé. R.H.N.