Fiber has long been linked to better health, but new research shows how the gut microbiota might play a role in this pattern. In a recent article by Joe Belanger he explained that “your gut is the site of constant turf wars. Hundreds of bacterial species—along with fungi, archaea and viruses—do battle daily, competing for resources. Many experts advocate for consuming more probiotics, live beneficial bacteria, to improve microbial communities in our gut (I do think this is a healthy choice) but more and more research supports the idea that the most powerful approach might be to better feed the good bacteria we already harbor. Their meal of choice? Fiber.
Fiber has long been linked to better health, but new research shows how the gut microbiota might play a role in this pattern. One investigation discovered that adding more fiber to the diet can trigger a shift from a microbial profile linked to obesity to one correlated with a leaner physique. Another recent study shows that when microbes are starved of fiber, they can start to feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, possibly triggering inflammation and disease.
"Diet is one of the most powerful tools we have for changing the microbiota," Justin Sonnenburg,
Today's Western diet, however, is exceedingly fiber-poor by historical standards. It contains roughly 15 grams of fiber daily, Sonnenburg noted. For most of our early history as hunter-gatherers, we were likely eating close to 10 times that amount of fiber each day. "Imagine the effect that has on our microbiota over the course of our evolution," he said.
Feed the microbes so they don't feed on you
As gut microbes are starved of fermentable fiber, some do die off. Others, however, are able to switch to another food source in the gut: the mucus lining that helps keep the gut wall intact and free from infection.
In a recent study presented at the Keystone meeting, Eric Martens of the University of Michigan Medical School, postdoctoral researcher Mahesh Desai and their colleagues found that this fuel switch had striking consequences in rodents. A group of mice fed a high-fiber diet had healthy gut lining, but for mice on a fiber-free diet, "the mucus layer becomes dramatically diminished," he explained at the meeting. This shift might sometimes have severe health consequences. Research by a Swedish team, published last year in the journal Gut, showed a link between bacteria penetrating the mucus layer and ulcerative colitis, a painful chronic bowel disease.
A third group of mice received high-fiber chow and fiber-free chow on alternating days—"like what we would do if we were being bad and eating McDonald's one day and eating our whole grains the next," Martens joked. Even the part-time high-fiber diet was not enough to keep guts healthy: these mice had a mucus layer about half the thickness of mice on the consistently high-fiber diet. If we can extend these results to humans, he said, it "tells us that even eating your whole fiber foods every other day is still not enough to protect you. You need to eat a high-fiber diet every day to keep a healthy gut." Martens and his colleagues also observed that mice on the consistently high-fiber diet consumed fewer calories and were slimmer than those on the fiber-free diet, showing that fiber benefits the body in multiple ways.
Whew hope that wasn’t all too scientific for you. Bottom line is your general health is affected HUGELY by your gut health and your gut health is affected HUGELY by how much fiber you eat. And of course I want you to work this week on eating more fiber.
The easiest challenge for me to give you is to eat 40 grams of fiber and I hope some of you choose to hit that mark. But as that might be too challenging for some what I would like you to do is to have you look at how much fiber you ate daily last week and see if you can raise it 5-10 grams per day.
For every day that you make marked improvement in your fiber intake you can claim the daily 5 bonus points. And BTW I would recommend REAL fiber over highly processed fiber products. Eat some steel cut oats, popcorn, an orange, some real fresh coconut etc. rather than Fiber one bars or cereal.