If you want to improve your performance and health while aging without disease then you need to eat fiber. Unfortunately, we live in a fiber-deprived world. The processing of our food removes valuable nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making it difficult to know how to get enough fiber in your diet to reap all of the awesome benefits.
In this article I will explain what fiber is, what the benefits of fiber are, signals of not eating enough, how much fiber you should have every day, and tips to increase your intake.
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is a form of indigestible carbohydrate. We cannot digest it because we do not produce the necessary enzymes to break down the bonds (beta) found in fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber attracts water and turns into a gel while being digested. It is found in nuts, vegetables, legumes, and grains. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is found in vegetables, whole grains, and seeds.
Since we do not produce the enzymes necessary to breakdown fiber, this allows it to enter the large intestine intact. Once it reaches the large intestine it acts as food for good bacteria. You want to feed your good bacteria in order for them to thrive and prevent bad bacteria from taking over your intestinal system. Having a healthy bacterial balance in your gut is extremely important. Many studies have shown the numerous benefits of maintaining healthy gut bacteria. Further, a disrupted bacterial balance (dysbiosis) can change gene expression in the brain.1
Your intestinal bacteria also help you synthesize vitamins (B2, B5, B6, biotin, and vitamin K).2 Vitamins B2 and B5 play an integral role in the production of ATP (energy). Without them you can’t perform at your highest level in the gym and on the field.
Raw produce has a higher fiber content than cooked. [Photo courtesy of Pixabay]
Fiber In, Toxins Out
Fiber helps to bulk your stool. That’s right, if you want to have good poops (who doesn’t!) you need to eat fiber. Your intestines push your digested food along through muscle contractions – think about putting a marble in a hose and squeezing the section right before it to help push it along. The more bulked up your stool is, the easier it is for your intestines to move it along for elimination.
The whole reason we poop is to get rid of toxins from your body. If you let waste sit in your intestinal system for too long you begin to reabsorb those toxins. A body that is burdened with the reabsorption of toxins does not have the capacity to throw off new toxins entering the system due to the ‘back-log.’ This means more toxins continue to accumulate, which can lead to numerous health issues.3
Having a toxic build up generally manifests in one of the following issues:
- Gastrointestinal conditions
- Malabsorption of nutrients
- Skin manifestations
- Endocrine disruptions
- Neurocirculatory abnormalities
- Low-back pain
- Cardiac irregularities
- Pathological changes in the breast
How Much Do You Need?
Eating fiber is important not only for health but also for performance. Consume 30g of fiber or more each day. To put that in perspective, the Hadza tribe in Tanzania eats between 100-300g of fiber a day.
Eat whole foods as much as possible to meet your fiber requirements. Some of the best sources are whole grains and legumes. To decrease their anti-nutrient content soak and/or sprout them before consumption. Raw fruits and vegetables keep fiber intact, while cooking degrades fiber content. A good general rule is to have a raw fruit or vegetable raw at every meal.
Here is a sample day of good fiber intake:
- 1 cup of rolled oats (8g) – measured dry
- 1/4 cup raspberries (2g)
- 1/2 cup qunioa (2.5g)
- 1/4 cup lentils (4g)
- 1/4 cup raw carrots (1g)
- 1/4 cup lightly steamed broccoli (0.5g)
- 1/2 avocado (6.5g)
- 1/4 cup soaked raw almonds (3g)
- 100g chicken (0g)
- 2 cups spinach (2g)
- 1/2 cup sweet potato (4g)
Total fiber = 33.5g
If you are unable to eat enough fiber through real food, try psyllium husks to supplement your fiber intake. Freshly ground flax also works well, especially for those with more sensitive bowels. Pectin is a pricier fiber supplement option, but it is a great for smokers or former smokers as it helps bind to and pull out heavy metals like mercury from the body. With any of these supplements, increase the dosage over time. Start with 1/2 teaspoon mixed into water and go up to a maximum of 1 tablespoon, or 2 tablespoons for ground flax.
Eat for Complete System Health
Getting the right amount of fiber in your diet each day will do your health a world of good. Fiber promotes a good bacterial balance in your intestinal system and helps to regularly eliminate toxins from your bowel. If you aren’t pooping a couple times a day then you definitely need more fiber and probably water as well. Both of these main benefits will help to improve your energy, performance, and overall health.
Delicious ways to eat more vegetables:
1. Hill, M J, “Intestinal flora and endogenous vitamin synthesis,” European Journal of Cancer Prevention 1(1997):43-45.
2. Hoban, A. E., et al., “Regulation of prefrontal cortex myelination by the microbiota,” Translational Psychiatry 6(2016):e774.
3. Jensen, B. Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care, 1998, MgGraw-Hill.