A longer and healthier life is linked with high-fiber diets. Proof is found around the world in many cultures where a high-fiber diet in a norm. Studies have found that Ugandans who ate a high-fiber diet escaped many of the common European and American diseases. Similarly Japanese Okinawans have been credited with some of the longest life spans on the planet. Traditional Okinawa diet is low in calories and fat while high in carbs, predominently vegetables and soy products with occasional small amounts of noodles, rice, pork, and fish. With new research we are only just gaining a much greater understanding of the importance of fiber and our health.
A study in 2017 revealed that fiber is closely linked with our gut microbes. Literally, a proper fiber diet feeds our gut bacteria. Gut bacteria thrive on the right fiber, and multiply both in number and type. Having more microbes in our gut means that the intestinal mucus wall is thicker and better serves as a protective barrier between the body and the gut. It aids in digestion, controls absorption and lowers inflammation in the body.
We now know a lot more about our body’s microbiome. It is not a constant, but changes all the time, even from one meal or snack to another. Eating too much fiber or the same type every day can cause digestive distress e.g. bloating, cramps and blockages. Although, it is useful to note that it is difficult to consume too much fiber. If you are not used to fiber in your diet then gradually increasing it over a period of time can be helpful. It is important to eat the right types of fiber. A good balance of a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and grains will reflect well on your gut health.
The ideal daily fiber intake should be not less than 25-30gms. In the UK the average intake is around 15gms. In addition to increasing your total dietary fiber content, you can also try to choose food options that have higher fiber content. Different sources have varying levels of fiber content and quality. A good way to measure this is by observing how much water is absorbed. Below are some examples of fiber content of some common foods, based on raw or dry foods.
Food amount equivalent to 10gms of grain fiber
|Wheat bran||23gms (½ cup)||Carrots||310gms (3 carrots)|
|Apricots (dried)||37gms (½cup)||Broccoli||358gms (1large head)|
|Oats||95gms (1 cup)||Cabbage||466gms (1 medium)|
|Baked beans||137gms (small can)||Apple||500gms (3-4 apples)|
|New potatoes, boiled||500gms (7 potatoes)||Banana||625gms (6 peaches)|
A new analysis published in the Lancet of nearly 250 studies concluded that high fiber diets of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains decreases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Compared to those who ate very little fiber, those who ate the most fiber reduced their risk of dying from stroke, cardiac disease, colon cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes by 16% to 24%. Thus more fiber is better. With the addition of every 8 grams of dietary fiber, the disease risk lowered by another 5% to 27%. The best outcomes were when daily intake of fiber was between 25 and 29 grams.
Try some of the following;
- Choose whole grain foods e.g. replace white bread with whole wheat bread.
- Replace orange, apple or grapefruit juices, and eat the fresh fruit or vegetable instead.
- Eat fruit and vegetables (including potatoes) with skin on.
- Choose high-fiber cereals.
- Eat more natural, rather than processed foods.
- Choose romaine lettuce instead of iceberg lettuce.
- Read food labels to compare fiber content.
- Add 1-2 Tbsp of bran, ground flax seed or high fiber cereal in your morning cereal.
- Snack on nuts, vegetables or fruits.
Remember to increase your fluid intake to accommodate the increase in dietary fiber.