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July 23, 2019
Believe it or not, even among people who feel they eat pretty healthy, most people only take 3 bowel movements (on average) per week! That is not the picture of health — any doctor will tell you that you should be having a healthy bowel movement every single day… at a minimum!
We may be healthy in other aspects of our lives, but when it comes to our bowels, most people are not.
One of the biggest reasons is because we are simply not getting enough fiber in our diets each day. This is largely due to all the processed and prepackaged foods that now make up most of the typical American diet.
The good news is that integrating fiber into your diet is easier than you might think, and it can be delicious and colorful too. There’s no need to depend on fiber supplements that are packed with chemicals and extra ingredients. The first step is simply to eat more plants, instead of synthetic packaged fiber — that’s where you’ll find the best sources of dietary fiber. Choosing fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds daily will add all the fiber you need, plus they also provide important antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. No wonder most of the animal kingdom eats plants. They really are pretty incredible, and it’s so simple to do.
Speaking of fiber, let’s look closer at this amazing carbohydrate. Fiber doesn’t get digested and absorbed like other carbs, but it gets a lot of work done on its way out (Note: keep in mind that when you start adding more fiber to your diet, you’ll want to grab a tall glass of water and sip throughout the day to keep things moving along at a healthy rate).
If you’ve ever taken a peek at the nutrition facts label, you’ve likely noticed “Dietary Fiber” is located under “Total Carbohydrates.” This accounts for both types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. It’s rare to find a nutrition label that lists the content of types of fiber, but they’re out there. If you’re eating fresh foods without labels (bonus points!), a quick search online will show you the fiber content of your food. Google the food on your list and find out how much fiber is in a typical serving of each.
According to the American Heart Association, the daily value for fiber is 25 grams per day on a 2,000-calorie diet for adults. This number may also depend on age or gender:
Did you know that insoluble and soluble fiber behave differently in our bodies? To put it simply, insoluble fiber speeds up the digestion process, and soluble fiber slows it down. Both are important for our health, however soluble fiber is our focus today because of the role it plays in assisting with treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and cancer.
Soluble fiber attracts water, creating a gel, and bulks up to slow your digestion. This is where extra water helps. The gel slows the absorption of carbohydrates, making it great for regulating blood sugar, while the extra volume from the bulk will make you feel full. You can see how this can help prevent and treat diabetes and obesity. Fortunately, many whole food sources of fiber have other means to promote satiety and blood sugar regulation as well.
This hydrophilic (water loving) fiber is important for preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. The jellylike material grabs LDL cholesterol on its way out of our bodies and decreases the amount we absorb.
Studies are being done on soluble fiber and how it can help prevent and aid in the treatment of type-2 diabetes. Soluble fiber prevents blood sugar spikes by slowing down digestion and allowing sugar to be absorbed at a manageable rate.
Highly fermentable soluble fibers like fructooligosaccharides and inulin are prebiotics: food for the good gut flora (which itself is called probiotics). They produce healthy short-chain fatty acids through the process of fermentation. So you provide the food via fermentable fibers and the satisfied microbes provide fatty acids — everyone wins, especially your bowels!
Soluble also fibers have anti-inflammatory properties, a great secondary benefit in addition to the helping hand they give to your gut microbiome. Achieving an ideal balance of good gut flora assists in repairing leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability. Inflammation is decreased when particles are no longer allowed to leak from the gut and upset your immune system. A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Immunology found that fermentable soluble fibers, like inulin, can reduce inflammation and even help prevent memory loss resulting from age-related brain inflammation.
An anti-inflammatory diet will help reduce the risk of cancer, but soluble fibers might also lower the risk of colon and breast cancer too. Studies conducted by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition show promising results that are a step in the right direction. There’s no harm in adding more fiber in your diet either way!
Finding good sources of soluble fiber is easy. There are many different fruits, vegetables, and legumes to try.
If you’ve ever made chia pudding, then you already have a great visual to help you understand what soluble fiber does in your GI tract. These mini nutritional powerhouses surround themselves with a gelatinous membrane when they come into contact with liquid. What you’re looking at is a soluble fiber called mucilage. Chia seeds are popular in vegan recipes because this gelatinous soluble fiber allows it to be used as an egg substitute in baked goods. To top things off, chia seeds contain all essential nine amino acids too!
Like chia seeds, flaxseeds also contain mucilage, but flaxseeds have a higher content of soluble fiber. Both of these seeds are a great source of ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid. Flaxseeds contain lignans: a polyphenol that helps regulate estrogen and lower LDL cholesterol. You can add ground flax seeds to baked goods for added fiber and nutrition — especially if you’re looking for food that can potentially prevent cardiovascular disease.
Adding these crunchy cruciferous veggies to your diet will not only add a source of soluble fiber, but an abundance of vitamins and minerals. Turnips are a great source of a compound called sulforaphane, which has been studied for its anticancer effects. Add some color to your salad or bake up some turnip chips to have a healthy snack on hand.
There’s way more to hazelnuts than the sugary spreads companies make with them. Hazelnuts have been studied and praised for their benefits to brain health, lowering cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, and more. They are a good source of folate, copper, and manganese. Leave a bowl out for your family to snack on between meals, or chop some up for an extra crunch in a fruit salad.
Chicory contains inulin, a fermentable dietary fiber, and is great for gut health. Though chicory root is more popular, you can also prepare and eat the leaves. According to The Journal of Nutrition, Inulin has been proven to help us absorb calcium to prevent osteoporosis. It also has shown promise in cancer prevention, specifically colon and breast cancer.
Here’s another low-calorie and highly nutritious food that’s also a good source of soluble fiber. Asparagus also contains inulin; that lovable fermentable fiber. It is also filled with antioxidants to fight free radicals. Know that asparagus is a natural diuretic, and if you’re already drinking extra water to account for your extra fiber intake, you need to be ready for a few extra bathroom breaks.
This magical legume… the more you eat, the more you benefit from soluble fibers! All joking aside, moderation is important when adding beans to your diet. Beans have the highest fiber content of all the foods mentioned here. Some people need to add beans to their diets slowly or take digestive enzymes as part of their diet with the beans to help their body adapt to processing the fiber. Tossing black beans in a salad or simply eating them with chicken breast and rice will leave you feeling full and energized for the day.
Avocado toast has become a favorite over recent years. Though most toast doesn’t have natural fiber, the avocados are wonderful on their own even without bread, and can keep you feeling satisfied and curb appetite. Plus, sweet potatoes make a great toast alternative to put your avocado on! The healthy fats in avocados and soluble fibers work together to prevent overeating. Whip up a bowl of guacamole with avocado, onions, cilantro, sea salt and a squeeze of lime. Enjoy it with a few extra veggies cut in thin slices.
Not only do bananas contain the soluble fibers inulin and pectin, they also have high levels of potassium. Potassium is a crucial electrolyte needed for heart and kidney function. They’re easy to toss into a protein shake in the morning, or to have on hand as a snack.
These gooey vegetables add a nice crunch to any meal. They can be eaten whole or chopped, but they’re especially loved in southern states when they’re pickled. Mucilage is the soluble fiber that gives okra its signature goo! An interest in the flavonoids (polyphenols) present in okra sparked a 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. The study concluded that okra can be used in dietary therapy for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Add all of that to the benefits of soluble fiber and you have a powerful food ally.
There you have it! Ten delicious foods to add to your shopping list or garden. Next time you reach for that hazelnut or chia seed pudding, remember what you’ve learned about soluble fiber and teach a friend or two. The more fiber we invite into our homes and our bodies, the healthier we will all be!