“An apple a day” revisited
by Rebecca Snow
Fiber. It has been touted for decades as a necessary and healthy component of one’s diet, mainly for the purpose of regulating digestion. Technically, fiber is not a nutrient because it is not digested and absorbed by the body. Rather, fiber enters the colon undigested where it can be transformed by gut bacteria. Naturally occurring, fiber is derived solely from plants and is classified by insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and soluble fiber absorbs water and moistens the stool. However, this distinction has less relevancy in daily living because most plant foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Fiber is particularly beneficial for the health of our gut microbiome. We now know that the organisms that live in our gut contain 100 times more genes than what is found in the rest of our body. Due to advances in research of the gut microbiome, a more contemporary classification system for fiber is fermentable and non-fermentable. For example, fructooligosaccharides are a type of fermentable fiber found in bananas, onions, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichokes. Fermentable fibers are called “prebiotics” because they act as food for the bacteria in the colon. These prebiotics help to shift the composition of the microbes in the gut and provide numerous health benefits—reducing obesity and inflammation, lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer, improving mood, and supporting the immune system.
The typical American eats 15 grams of fiber per day, which falls far short of the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations of 25g for women and 38g for men. Many health practitioners consider these numbers the minimum amount of fiber needed, but not the optimal. Most of the animal research on the health benefits of fiber as a prebiotic translate to a human dose of 50g per day.
For the majority of people, more fiber is better. However, for individuals with acute inflammation in the gut—those with inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and diverticulitis—it is best to eat a lower-fiber diet during times when the condition is acute or at least until the flare resolves. After the acute inflammation resolves, increasing fiber is helpful to prevent recurrent flares. Another group of fiber-sensitive people are those with irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D). Those with IBS-D may be sensitive to certain fermentable carbohydrates in the diet called FODMAPs. High FODMAP foods include beans, wheat, dairy, soy, onions, apple, and broccoli. When someone with IBS-D has trouble with three or more of the above foods, it may be smart to try a low-FODMAP diet. You can learn more about FODMAPs at Monash University.
For most people, though, boosting fiber intake is best. The best way to increase fiber in your diet is to eat a variety of whole foods, such as beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. A 130 calories meal that contains 1/2 cup black beans (7.5 g), 1/2 avocado (8 g) and 1 cup sweet potato (6.5 g) provides 22 grams of fiber at a single sitting! Beans are particularly high in fiber, but are hard for some people to digest. Soaking beans overnight and cooking them with aromatic herbs like cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and fennel can reduce their gassiness.
More Peach Vitamins tips for gas-free beans:
• Discard the soaking water and use fresh water when you’re ready to cook your beans
• Put a piece of kombu seaweed in your pot when you’re cooking beans
• As you cook beans on the stove, regularly skim the white foam off the top and discard it
• Be sure the beans are cooked completely through
• Try cooking in a pressure cooker to ensure the beans are cooked completely
Rebecca Snow is an herbalist, nutritionist, and educator who has a private practice in Catonsville, MD. Rebecca was the founding director at the Master of Science in Nutrition & Integrative Health at Maryland University of Integrative Health, where she worked for 10 years in a variety of roles as faculty, clinic supervisor, and administrator. She is a Certified Nutritional Specialist through the Board for the Certified Nutritional Specialists, a licensed nutritionist in the State of Maryland, and registered herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. You can find more about the author at her site: www.rebeccasnow.com
Article originally published in Winter 2017 issue of Good Health Lifestyles magazine, with edits and additions by Peach Vitamins staff./**/