Prescription 2017: Eat More Fiber

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When it comes to nutrition, one size does not fit all. Foods that are nourishing to some can be harmful to others. Take, for example, tree nuts. Many studies report that eating almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts regularly tends to improve the nutrient density of diets and has been linked to lower disease and mortality risk. However, if you’re allergic to tree nuts, they are essentially poison to your system. The same is true of many common and otherwise nutritious foods, including dairy, eggs and shellfish. This concept is sometimes referred to as bio-individuality. In practice, the ideal is to become aware of the foods on which your body thrives and which do not agree with you.

I coach clients who are interested in addressing a wide variety of health concerns. And, I find that in most instances, the addition of more whole foods that are rich in fiber is beneficial. This is borne out of a significant and growing body of research presented in the medical literature. Personally, I’ve yet to find anyone who hasn’t been able to increase dietary roughage with whole foods – provided that they increase consumption progressively. Undoubtedly, adding more fiber-rich foods to your diet can be powerful medicine. But, it introduces a broad spectrum of substances (carbohydrates, nutrients and phytochemicals) to which the digestive system may need to acclimate. It’s a lot like exercise. By virtually all accounts, physical activity is health promoting. That said, if you’re out of shape, you need to slowly ease into an exercise routine.

Note: The addition of dietary or supplemental fiber needs to be approached carefully in those with diagnosed or suspected digestive disorders. In some cases, added “bulk” can be invaluable. Other times, it can be counter-productive and irritating to the gut in the short or long term. Again, this is an example of taking into consideration your individual needs or bio-individuality.

The general recommendation of eating adequate dietary fiber has been popular for quite some time. Arguably, the most widely accepted use for fiber is to alleviate constipation. And, it does work well in that regard, provided that you drink enough liquids. However, it seems that many of fiber’s other benefits aren’t as clear as they ought to be. From my perspective, if more people knew the advantages of a fiber-rich eating plan, they’d be more inclined to seek out foods that fit the bill. Below are some lesser known benefits of eating more roughage.

Fiber (Positively) Affects Hormone-Related Health: The March 2017 issue of the Journal of Diabetes describes that “low circulating levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) have been shown to be a direct and strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hormone-dependent cancers”. The publication goes on to report that a high fiber, low glycemic diet was associated with higher SHBG levels in a group of over 11,000 women. Another study published in the very same month revealed an inverse association between fiber rich food and breast cancer incidence. What’s more, a trial from January 2017 reveals that dietary fiber may mitigate the risk of breast cancer incurred by alcohol consumption. Taken together, this collection of evidence may provide a proactive way for women to avoid some of the most prevalent diseases of the modern age.

Fiber for Better Blood Sugar and Metabolic Health: Several new studies offer a unique method of adding more fiber to one’s diet: replacing starch and/or sugar with fiber. One of the experiments evaluated the effect of crowding out some starch by adding oyster mushroom powder to a biscuit recipe. The addition of mushroom lowered the glycemic index of the biscuits “without jeopardizing its desirable sensorial properties”. The two remaining trials determined that using beta glucan, a form of oat fiber, and inulin, a prebiotic fiber derived from chicory root, consistently reduced post meal blood sugar and insulin when incorporate in bread and fruit jam.

Dietary Fiber May Lower Systemic Inflammation: C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker used to assess systemic inflammation. Elevated CRP is considered an “independent predictor of chronic diseases”, including cancer, mood disorders and stroke. Two recent studies, one in adults and one in children, concluded that nutrient dense foods that were rich in fiber correlated with lower CRP levels. One possible explanation for this is that higher fiber intake often increases the diversity of gut bacteria and, thereby, may discourage gut dysbiosis – a suspected cause of metabolic dysfunction and systemic inflammation.

Dietary Fiber for Healthier Weight Management: The make up of your gut microbiota may, likewise, play a vital role in the prevention of overweight. Low-fiber diets are believed to tip the scales in the opposite direction. Admittedly, this field of research is still in its infancy. Thus far, researchers inform that greater gut microbiota diversity is “negatively associated with long-term weight gain”. Also of interest, prebiotics have shown promise in reducing appetite and caloric intake in those who are struggling with overweight.

Dietary Fiber for Fresher Breath: Admittedly, this symptomatic benefit isn’t as consequential as those previously discussed. Still, bad breath is something just about everyone would rather avoid. It turns out that high-fiber diets may improve halitosis. There are two probable reasons for this clinically documented observation. The first is that fiber rich foods require more chewing, which results in a sort of “self cleaning of the mouth”. Secondly, an imbalance of gut bacteria, the aforementioned gut dysbiosis, can result in bad breath which frequently emanates from further down in the gastrointestinal tract. Fiber comes to the aid here by selectively feeding some of the desirable bacteria causing a greater balance of microbiota.

The track record of fiber in both controlled and population based studies is outstanding. This is true for food-based and supplemental forms of bulk, such as apple pectin and psyllium husks. Having said that, some of the benefits noted anecdotally and in the scientific literature, are likely due to other beneficial components found in fiber-rich foods. For this reason, I recommend getting as much roughage as possible from whole food sources, rather than relying solely on supplements. To that end, I want to close this blog with my top-ten list of foods that are much more than just fiber sources: Almonds: 3.5 grams of fiber / ounce;  Apple: 5.4 grams / large fruit;  Avocado: 13.5 grams / 201 gram fruit;  Blueberries: 3.6 grams / cup;  Broccoli: 5.5 grams / cup; Canned Pumpkin: 3.5 grams / half-cup; Collard Greens: 5.3 grams / cup; Dried Coconut: 4.6 grams / ounce; Flaxseeds: 8.4 grams / 3 Tbs; Raspberries: 8 grams / cup.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Relation of Dietary Carbohydrates Intake to Circulating Sex Hormone (link)

Study 2 – Dietary Fiber Intake and Risk of Breast Cancer Defined by Estrogen (link)

Study 3 – Fiber Intake Modulates the Association of Alcohol Intake with Breast … (link)

Study 4 – Incorporation of Dietary Fibre-Rich Oyster Mushroom Powder … (link)

Study 5 – A Multifunctional Bread Rich in Beta Glucans and Low in Starch (link)

Study 6 – Replacement of Glycaemic Carbohydrates by Inulin-Type Fructans (link)

Study 7 – Serum High C Reactive Protein Concentrations are Related to the (link)

Study 8 – Vegetable and Fruit Intakes Are Associated with hs-CRP Levels (link)

Study 9 – Gut Dysbiosis is Associated w/ Metabolism and Systemic Inflammation (link)

Study 10 – Dietary Fiber Gap and Host Gut Microbiota … (link)

Study 11 – Gut Microbiome Diversity and High Fibre Intake are Related to Lower… (link)

Study 12 – Prebiotic Supplementation Improves Appetite Control in Children (link)

Study 13 – The Effect of a Chewing-Intensive, High-Fiber Diet on Oral Halitosis (link)

Study 14 – Fiber Content of Diet Affects Exhaled Breath Volatiles in Fasting and … (link)

Study 15 – Functional Disorders of the Gastrointestinal Tract (link)

Prebiotic Fiber + Probiotics May Reduce Asthma Symptoms

Source: Nutrients 2017, 9(1), 57 (link)

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