Fiber is a key player in digestion and therefore a key player in overall health. Digestion is defined as the way that our body uses and processes the foods we eat; and fiber aids in this task by maximizing uptake of good substances while dampening the effects of excess consumption. It is the great nutritional balancer.
What exactly is fiber?
Fiber is the part of food which our body cannot digest. Other macronutrients we hear about are sugars, proteins, and fats, which are absorbed by the digestive system, broken down, and used by our cells and tissues to keep the body running. Fiber does not get absorbed and used, because our bodies lack the enzymes which to break it down with.
What is it doing instead?
Fiber works in a couple of ways:
Soluble fiber (the type that can dissolve in water) surrounds other macronutrients like sugars and fats, both of which are harmful in excess, and takes them through the digestive system and out of the body. This helps to make sure we aren’t taking up more sugar and fat than our body needs.
Insoluble fiber (the kind that cannot be dissolved in water) helps to add bulk to our stool and move food throughout this body, which helps with overall absorption. This helps to make sure our intestines stay clean and active.
Both of these types of fiber help to feed the bacteria which live in our gut and are essential to its workings. Animals lack the enzymes to break down fiber, but many bacteria have this ability and live in symbiosis with us, using what we cannot to sustain themselves and helping us in return. Remember, your body is about 90% bacterial cells!
The good news is that we have fiber to help us maintain digestive health. The bad news is that hardly anyone is getting enough of it. The recommended daily amount of fiber is 25 to 30 grams a day, while the average American consumes less than 15 grams a day. That’s nearly half the recommended amount!
How can you get more fiber? Ingest more of it! Fibers are found in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Legumes have the most fiber per volume, and anything green will probably give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to fiber.
We’ll talk more in the future about ideas on how to maximize the amount of fiber in your diet with easy substitutions and additions. But don’t wait for us! There’s no better time than now to start balancing out your digestive system with your body’s best friend, fiber.