While it may not be the sexiest subject on the planet, getting enough daily fiber is very important for a healthy body. You’ve likely heard all about the health benefits of fiber and while these differ between fibers, they include keeping your bathroom visits on a regular schedule and helping you feel satisfied after meals to keeping your blood sugar stable and cholesterol in check. But fiber does more than keep your digestive system chugging along. It plays a key role in maintaining good gut health, which may impact your overall health and well-being.
In particular, prebiotic fiber helps to support the function and maintenance of your gut microbiome, the complex community of microorganisms living in your digestive system. Here’s how.
Fiber and the Connection to Gut Health and Your Digestive Tract
1. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut
There are trillions of microorganisms — some good, some bad — living in your digestive system. The healthy bacteria in your gut feed on fiber, so the more fiber you eat, the more good bugs flourish!
In particular, your gut bacteria like a specific type of plant fibers called prebiotics. Prebiotics are commonly found in natural foods that contain a complex carbohydrate like fiber, and aren’t broken down by the digestive system. Instead, they pass through the digestive tract and enter the large intestines, where they’re fermented and eaten up by healthy bacteria.
Prebiotics, which are naturally found in fruits and vegetables like onions, asparagus, bananas, artichokes, and whole-wheat foods, are often added to supplements to increase their gut-healthy properties. You can also find prebiotics in Benefiber, the No. 1 prebiotic fiber brand1. (It’s important to note that not all fiber supplements contain prebiotics!)
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women should consume 25 grams of fiber a day while men should consume 38 grams of fiber a day. For adults over the age of 50, women should aim for 21 grams while men should target 30 grams per day.
2. Fiber supports production of good-for-you compounds
As your gut bacteria noshes on fiber, it creates byproducts like short-chain fatty acids, which research suggests may be a factor linking your microbiota with a number of health benefits like better immune system function and lower inflammation. Researchers at UC Davis Health have also found that the short-chain fatty acids can signal your gut to shift its environment in a way that’s favorable to the growth of healthy bacteria.
3. Fiber keeps your gut lining intact
Your gastrointestinal tract is more than just an expressway for undigested food to exit your body. Think of it as a gatekeeper. The lining of the gut lets nutrients into your bloodstream while keeping “bad” bacteria and pathogens out.
Your gut’s microorganisms help maintain the integrity of the gastrointestinal lining so it functions well and keeps you healthy. Fiber provides nourishment for your gut bacteria so they don’t turn to your gut lining for food. Plus, fiber and your gut bacteria stimulate mucus production to help fortify your gut’s protective barrier.
4. Fiber balances your gut bacteria
Think of your gut microbiome as an orchestra that works together. Just like you can’t have an orchestra made up of just violinists, your gut microbiome can’t be made up of just one type of bacteria. You need a variety of different members all playing different roles yet working together harmoniously.
Your diet is one of the main factors that influence the makeup of your gut microbiome and fiber helps maintain a diverse community of microorganisms in your gut. Increasing your fiber intake can alter the type of microorganisms in your gut in a few weeks.
1 IRI L52W W/E 09.22.19