Do you eat enough fiber to ward off superbugs and disease?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record — there are so many problems with the standard American diet that sometimes it’s hard to keep track. Too much sugar and refined carbohydrates… nowhere near enough fresh fruit and vegetables… and let’s not forget the ultra-processed food.

So is it any surprise that one of the biggest threats to your life that you face today is a lack of dietary fiber?

While it’s not exactly shocking news that Americans need more fiber, what’s especially interesting is the reason why… 70 to 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut. So cultivating a healthy balance of intestinal flora truly is the first step to achieving optimum health — and avoiding serious disease.

Fiber from carbohydrates is what feeds gut bacteria in humans — so a stomach that’s full of fiber is full of the good guys that feed on it. This type of dietary fiber is also known as prebiotics.

But most Americans eat only half of the fiber that they should (based on recommended dietary guidelines, which are probably lower than ideal anyway). Nutritionists call this the “fiber gap.”

If we don’t fix that gap, we could be in a lot of trouble…

Research from Stanford University published earlier this year found that mice who were fed the usual Western diet, featuring a lot of fat and refined carbs but very little fiber, had offspring with less diverse beneficial bacteria in their gut.

For humans that could be devastating. The more diverse your microbiome is, the easier it is for your body to resist invasive — and sometimes deadly — bacterial species like Salmonella or Clostridium difficile. Without that diversity, you’re wide open to dangerous infection.  But that’s not all…

These findings have led researchers to wonder whether a modern diet that has strayed so far from what our ancestors evolved eating, has ruined the once symbiotic relationship humans had with their gut bacteria… and if this could explain the epidemic of chronic diseases sweeping the West.

But if researchers’ suspicions are right — it should be a simple fix: an increase in dietary fiber has the potential to help heal a long list of chronic diseases.

One method for replenishing your gut’s bacterial balance, according to a recent commentary published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, is to eat more fiber.

Research has already shown that dietary fiber is beneficial in fighting colon cancer and heart disease — two health claims that even the FDA has signed off on. There are a lot more health claims that could be made for fiber, but a few obstacles need to be overcome first.

One obstacle is regulatory agencies like the FDA, which are notoriously hard on health claims that come from food. In fact, they put them through the same regulatory rigors as drugs, which seems excessive to say the least. In fact, the FDA will fast-track a questionable drug for approval — but hesitates to give a food cure their blessing, of all things.

The author of the commentary, University of Alberta researcher Jens Walter, says that another issue is the clinical research being performed on the health benefits of fiber. The doses of fiber being administered in most clinical studies are not nearly high enough to be beneficial… which is hampering the body of research that supports fiber’s benefits.

For example, most of these clinical studies are administering doses of fiber between 5 and 15 grams to study participants. But a study in which Africans Americans received a whopping  55 grams of fiber (to replicate the fiber content of a traditional South African diet) found that participants’ markers for colon cancer improved within two weeks.

The good news for you is that increasing your fiber intake is a pretty easy way to improve your health. Foods that are high in fiber include legumes and whole grains, not to mention a long list of fruits and vegetables.

Just remember, more is better when it comes to dietary fiber. At the very least, you should eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day to experience its health benefits. But some experts recommend more than 50 grams per day for each 1,000 calories consumed. Test it out and see how much fiber makes you feel your best. And if you still have trouble with your fiber intake, try a good quality prebiotic supplement.

Sources:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160411133952.htm
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160113160657.htm

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.