Everyone knows fiber is supposed to be good for us and that it’s an important part of our daily diet; various sources (like the American Heart Association and the USDA) tell us we’re supposed to get 20-30 grams of fiber a day – and also that the vast majority of us are only getting about half that amount.
When we talk about fiber, generally people immediately think of grains – whole grains, to be exact. But there are many more ways to get fiber in our diets than just whole grains. So what IS fiber, exactly, and why is it so good for us?
What is it?
There are different kinds of fiber (I’ll get into that in a minute), but at its most basic, all any of us really need to know is:
Fiber is the part of plants that our bodies can’t digest
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our digestive system can’t break down into sugar molecules. Most carbs get broken down into sugar – but not fiber. Instead, fiber remains intact as it travels through the gut and out the body.
Dietary fiber vs soluble fiber vs insoluble fiber vs prebiotics – WHAT??
Seeing so many “different” fibers being talked about can be confusing, but it’s actually pretty simple. Dietary fiber just means all fiber. Soluble fiber refers to those types of fiber that absorb, dissolve, and ferment in water during digestion, and insoluble fiber is that which doesn’t. See? Simple!
In the mid-90s, scientists first began to realize there were some soluble fibers that had an additional beneficial effect in that they “fed” the good bacteria in our gut, keeping them and thus our gut system, healthy. And thus was born the term “prebiotic fiber.”
Beyond that, you can certainly go even further, into the specific types of fiber, such as inulin oligofructose (which is a prebiotic), cellulose, mucilage, beta-glucans, pectin, psyllium, wheat dextrin, and lignin. But for most of us, we don’t need to get that detailed. It’s enough to know that dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble, is good for us.
Why is it good for us?
If our bodies can’t digest this stuff, why would we want to eat it?
Insoluble fiber is the kind of fiber most of us think about because of the whole grain/bran trend. It’s the kind that helps food and waste move through the digestive system; insoluble fiber keeps you regular and helps prevent constipation. Think of insoluble fiber like daily Drano for your gut. Because our stomach can’t digest it, it travels through the gut system intact, cleaning as it goes. Insoluble fiber helps keep everything moving, and is busy sweeping up everything along the way and making sure we’re able to get it out of the body as part of our daily waste.
Soluble fiber has been shown to lower glucose levels and blood cholesterol, and certain soluble fibers are prebiotics, feeding our gut microbiota and keeping out microbiome healthy.
Dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diverticular disease, breast cancer (especially if you get a lot of fiber when you’re younger) and diabetes. It’s also helpful for those who are trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, and a healthy gut has been shown to help us stay healthy as we age.Most of us aren’t getting enough fiber, and we’re all looking for ways to get more fiber in our diets. Besides whole grains, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, as are some nuts. But when you’re busy and on-the-go, it can be hard to really pay attention to your diet to ensure you’re getting the fiber you need. That’s why I developed Great Gut prebiotics: perfect blends of prebiotic fiber that you can easily mix in with food or drink, to help increase your overall daily fiber intake, and ensure you get enough of the good gut-feeding fiber in your diet.