Fiber: are you eating enough?
Fiber is one of those nutrients that so many of us lack or neglect in our diets. We usually associate the need for fiber only when our bowel movements are not as regular as we would like them to be but that’s not the case! Fiber is essential to our diet, general wellbeing and most importantly our gut health and digestive processes.
Fiber is in most things we eat – other than the obvious suspects such as bread and wheat. It’s also found in fruits and vegetables including, nuts and seeds.
To understand the importance of fiber you need to know how it interacts with the body – specifically the gut. As fiber enters the body, bacteria from the gut convert the fiber into short chain fatty acids one of which is called butyrate. Butyrate is an essential food supply for our digestive cells. By eating more fiber and increasing butyrate, you’re feeding the gut cells with good quality nutrients to undergo healthy digestion. Butyrate also provides a protective layer along the gut lining populating it with good bacteria, a protective wall that prevents the gut from developing gastrointestinal issues and inflammation such as leaky gut.
By eating fiber not only are you feeding the gut cells with good bacteria, it also helps you feel satiated for longer periods of time assisting in weight loss and weight maintenance as it breaks down slowly in the body. Fiber also maintains blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of gut related illnesses.
It’s important to note that many of us feel discomfort when eating fiber, but that’s because we don’t include enough of it! Your system does not have the capacity nor the proper cells to digest it well, which is why you feel uncomfortable. However, once you start introducing more fiber into your diet, your body will be more equipped to absorb it, minimizing the discomfort levels.
Tips on how to include more fiber in your diet:
- Experiment. Include 1-3 different vegetables/fruits (such as lentils, chickpeas, and perhaps eating more pears, grapes, and pomegranates). Rotate around those vegetables/fruits for the week. You want to slowly introduce your system to a variety of fruits and vegetables and avoid sticking to the same foods. By doing this, your body will start to diversify in the types of digestive cells that you produce, making your system stronger and resistant to illnesses.
- Start small. Always remember to start with foods that you are most familiar with by increasing the quantity – perhaps double up on the vegetables next time you eat or eat a fruit salad made with 3-4 different fruits. Avoid trying to introduce new foods all at once as overdoing it can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps as your gut bacteria tries to process all the new fiber.
- Eat the rainbow! The more colorful your plate, the happier your gut will be. By eating a variety of different plants, vegetables, legumes, and complex carbohydrates you’re allowing your body to be exposed to different nutrients and vitamins.
- Hydrate. Ensure that you always stay hydrated. Increasing your water intake can help fiber pass through your digestive system easily and avoid stomach distress. Drink between 8-10 glasses of water a day (the amount is a suggested serving but this depends on your body and activity levels).
Remember, you are what you eat – literally! Every cell in your body is trained to expect a certain amount of sodium, sugar, fat, carb and protein intake based on your eating habits over the years. Changing your body on a cellular level takes a lot of time and doesn’t happen overnight. Just like your workouts, your cells need time to change and adapt to new foods. Be patient!