Hello to you! If you've ever struggled with any sort of tummy trouble - constipation, diarrhea, gas/bloating - you've likely talked to your doctor or gone to Dr. Google for help...and the advice was likely the same: a resounding increase water, fiber, and exercise. I want to zoom in a little bit on the fiber piece of that suggestion today and explain *why* and *how* fiber helps combat tummy trouble...and go a little bit further with some other suggestions.
Why fiber is recommended + how it helps
Most plant foods have a mix of both types of fiber, but some are higher in one type than the other. It's also important to note that you should never dramatically increase your fiber intake in a short period of time. It's much better to gradually increase your fiber intake so that your body has time to adapt - otherwise, it could make your tummy situation even worse.
But how does fiber help? Simply put, fiber helps your gut health in a few ways:
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water - it adds bulk to your stool because it draw water into your intestine but does not dissolve, keeping your stool soft and easier to pass at a normal rate Foods higher in insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, and vegetables.
Soluble fiber does dissolve in water and forms a gel-like substance. In addition to helping your stool to pass more easily through your intestines, soluble fiber has also been shown to help reduce cholesterol and blood sugar. Foods higher in soluble fiber include beans and legumes, oats, citrus fruits, strawberries, and potatoes.
Some fibers act as a prebiotic.
Yep - a prebiotic. You've heard of probiotics - those good little organisms living in our guts that help to promote normal function. So then what is a prebiotic? Basically, prebiotics are foods for the probiotics. To get technical, Webster defines a prebiotic as "a substance and especially a carbohydrate (such as inulin) that is nearly or wholly indigestible and that when consumed (as in food) promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract".
Just as your body needs proper nutrients to thrive, bacteria need certain nutrients to thrive as well. Collectively referred to as our gut microbiome, we actually have 10 microbial cells in our body for every 1 human cell - so we are technically more bacteria than we are human! So one could argue that properly nourishing our microbiome is just as, if not even more, important than nourishing our own cells. If our microbiome isn't thriving, it can't perform countless functions that it carries out for us including vitamin production, hormone control, and messaging to our brains to name a few.
So what are some food sources of prebiotics? This is a very emerging area of science, and it isn't fully understood yet. However, a few food sources that are tried and true include:
Some fibers - not all fiber is a prebiotic, but many kinds of fiber are.
Lactulose - this is often surprising to people, as lactulose comes from milk sugar, lactose, which many people struggle to digest
Polyphenols - still being researched to understand their function as a prebiotic, but this nutrient from plants is found abundantly in vegetables, red wine, chocolate, and coffee.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids - also still being investigated to fully understand their function as a prebiotic. All foods contain a blend of types of fat; however, the foods highest in polyunsaturated fats are foods such as avocado, salmon, and nuts & seeds.
So there you have it - a deep dive on types of fiber + food sources, plus some bonus content on a whole different characteristic of foods that can improve gut health. What are you going to focus on incorporating into your diet first? Let me know, I would love to hear!