Are You Getting Enough Fiber in Your Diet? The Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet

Are You Getting Enough Fiber in Your Diet? The Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet

Probiotics get a lot of press coverage — and rightfully so. We couldn’t live without the healthy bacteria, yeasts, and other microorganisms that inhabit our guts. They break down and extract nutrients from the food we eat; strengthen our immune system; and supply essential vitamins, particularly B vitamins and vitamin K.

Probiotics also help us maintain a healthy weight; support brain and nervous system health and function; metabolize medications and other chemical substances; and keep populations of unhealthy (pathogenic) microorganisms in check.

Unfortunately, the delicate balance of microorganisms in the gut is disturbed by a variety of factors, including the Western diet (low in fiber and nutrients, high in sugar and processed foods), environmental toxins, and the overuse of antibiotics and certain hygiene products that kill off microbes (good and bad) indiscriminately. This imbalance of intestinal microbiota, technically referred to as dysbiosis, often triggers chronic inflammation and metabolic dysfunction.

What gets much less press coverage than probiotics are prebiotics — the fiber we consume but can’t digest — which promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in our gut. Beneficial bacteria in the colon ferment soluble prebiotic fibers to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which have been identified as powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. SCFAs, including acetate, butyrate, and propionate play an important role in maintaining a healthy gut by improving the integrity of the gut barrier, thereby preventing leaky gut. SCFAs, especially butyrate, also play an important role in modulating the immune response.

Thankfully, prebiotics are beginning to attract more attention. While the medical community has long recognized the health benefits of a high-fiber diet, it is just beginning to recognize the importance of fiber in restoring and maintaining a diverse and thriving community of healthy microorganisms.

As a result, our colleagues on the allopathic side of healthcare are starting to realize that taking probiotics isn’t enough. We need to feed those microorganisms, too, and fiber is their food of choice.

Feeding Microorganisms in Our Gut

You’ve probably heard the adage, “You are what you eat,” but in many ways you are what your microorganisms eat. If you’re feeding your microorganisms the Standard American Diet (SAD) — lots of fried and processed foods, sugar, and refined grains, and little in the way of veggies, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fruit — then you’re nurturing the microorganisms that make you sick.

In medical terms, you’re creating an environment that’s vulnerable to small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) — a population explosion of pathogenic microbes. SIBO can cause a host of symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Unintentional weight loss

Over time, SIBO can trigger inflammation, resulting in a host of chronic health conditions, including the following:

  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Malnutrition
  • Joint pain, arthritis
  • Increased intestinal permeability (k.a., leaky gut), which can cause allergies, food sensitivities, asthma, eczema, or other conditions related to immune system dysfunction and chronic inflammation. When starved of plant fiber, gut bacteria feed on the mucosal lining of the small intestine, which damages the lining, allowing substances that should be contained in the intestine to escape into the bloodstream. This causes the immune system to become over-reactive.
  • Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) —another form of immune system dysfunction — can cause food sensitivities and inflammation. MCAS is a condition characterized by recurring symptoms such as hives, swelling, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea, all due to the episodic release of abnormally high levels of mast cell mediators.
  • Depression, fatigue, brain fog
  • Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)
  • Gastroparesis (when food remains in the stomach too long)
  • Nerve damage
  • Cirrhosis
  • Viral gastroenteritis (stomach bug)

One approach to prevent SIBO and restore a healthy balance of beneficial microorganisms to the gut, is to starve the bad microorganisms and feed the good ones. That means consuming less sugar and processed foods and consuming more whole, plant-based foods — fibrous foods, including vegetables, nuts, legumes, healthy whole grains, and fruit. All these foods contain cellulose — plant fiber that our bodies can’t digest but that provides essential nutrition to the beneficial microorganisms living in our guts. Cellulose is the substrate on which healthy bacteria live, grow, and proliferate.

Recognizing the Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet

A high-fiber diet delivers numerous health benefits, including the following:

  • Improved immune function
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Reduced risk of developing colon polyps and cancer
  • Improved blood sugar regulation
  • Improved regularity of bowel movements
  • Improved colon wall integrity
  • Weight loss

In a 2015 study published in Nature Communications titled Fat, fibre, and cancer risk in African Americans and rural Africans, researchers led by Dr. Stephen J. D. O’Keefe of the University of Pittsburgh, conducted a food swap between African Americans and rural Africans. For two weeks, African Americans were fed a high-fiber, low-fat African style diet, while rural Africans were fed a high-fat, low-fiber western-style diet. Unsurprisingly, the biomarkers for colon cancer increased among the rural Africans and decreased among the African Americans.

Studies of indigenous populations show that they have a greater diversity of gut microorganisms that varies significantly according to the seasonal foods they consume. The reason? They consume about 10 times more fiber than the average person living in the U.S.

Upping Your Fiber Intake and Variety

We all know that plant-based foods deliver incredible health benefits in terms of their nutrient profiles. They provide our bodies with a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, enzymes, and other nutrients, along with thousands of other substances yet to be identified that contribute to cell health and function.

But plants also contain non-soluble fiber, which our bodies can’t digest, that indirectly supports our health. The structure and composition of plant-based foods is essential for creating a gut ecosystem that’s friendly to beneficial microorganisms, keeping harmful ones in check. Good microorganisms must have fiber (cellulose) to grow.

Here at Restoration Healthcare, where we partner with patients to discover and treat root malfunctions that lead to chronic illness, we screen for illnesses that can be traced to the gut. If, as part of our evaluation, we discover gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of microorganisms in the intestines), we recommend a gut healing protocol that uses both medically prescribed probiotics and prebiotics. The probiotics seek to restore beneficial bacteria to your gut, while the prebiotics are viewed as the soil in which the seeds of probiotics can successfully germinate and replicate.

When called for, we partner with you to heal your gut and rely heavily on you to increase your fiber intake. Here are a few ways you can increase your fiber consumption:

  • Eat a variety of fresh plant-based foods (preferably regenerative organic) — vegetables, nuts, legumes, healthy whole grains, and fruit. (Note that you may need to opt for plants low in oxalates and lectins. Lectins are chemicals that protect plants in nature but can trigger reactions in humans. Oxalates can bind to minerals, such as calcium, in the gut, preventing the body from absorbing them. For more information on oxalates, please read our previous post, What You Need to Know about the Oxalates in Your Diet.)
  • If you prefer to drink your plants, blend, don’t juice. Juicing removes the fiber, leaving only the liquid. With blending, you get the liquid and the fiber.
  • In consultation with your doctor, consider taking a quality fiber supplement, such as Optifiber, or one containing insoluble fiber such as acacia or inositol.

We recommend consuming seven to 10 servings of produce a day. A serving is a half-cup of chopped produce or a cup of lettuce or leafy greens. Getting most of your fiber from fresh vegetables and low-glycemic fruits such as cherries, apricots, plums, grapefruit, peaches, prunes, nectarines, apples, pears, and several others, is also a smart approach. As is avoiding sugary fruits and, especially, fruit juices.

Pro Tip: One way to increase your fiber intake and the variety in your diet is to shop the produce section of your grocery store for vegetables you’ve never tried. Wash them, chop them up, add some water and a pinch of sea salt, and blend them in a Vitamix or similar high-powered blender. Drink a shot of your blended concoction daily or even just a few days a week.

Remember that diversity and quantity of fiber are both important, so with your doctor’s approval, do your best to consume fiber from a broad range of sources. Different microorganisms have different nutritional needs and preferences, so we need to cater to those differences.

More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, concluded that all disease begins in the gut. To a great degree, he was right, though he may not have known exactly why gut health plays such a crucial role in our overall health. Research is beginning to shed light on the connection and making it clearer than ever that if you want to be healthy, you need to start by eating healthy. In part, that means eating a diet high in fiber.


Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about fiber is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at Restoration Healthcare, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.