Feed Good Gut Bacteria With…Fiber?
How much protein do I need? How about carbs or vitamin D? While we pay attention to certain nutrients we should be getting from our diet, nobody seems to worry or care much for fiber. After all, it’s not an “essential” nutrient and its sole function is to get our bowels moving (and keep them moving regularly). There’s nothing sexy about it.
I think most of us consider it a given fact that we consume enough by default. Yet, some studies estimate that less than 3% of Americans eat the government-recommended daily amount of fiber.
But as it turns out the more we understand that abundant and complex part of our own body known as the microbiome, the more important fiber gets in promoting good gut bacteria.
A recent study reported that fiber could be an important “gut-nourishing” nutrient. An additional article by the Times also just put a bold spotlight on the relationship between fiber and good gut bacteria.
Fiber is food for many of our gut bacteria, which exist mostly in the lower intestine. The problem with processed, reduced-fiber foods is that they get digested long before they get to that area. However, raw and cooked whole vegetables and fruit are high in fiber, so they reach the lower intestines relatively intact, where they can then ferment among all the good gut bacteria and keep them full, healthy, and thriving.
Your good gut bacteria feed on fiber and produce short-chain fatty acids. These are absorbed into the bloodstream and both regulate your immune system and decrease inflammation.
“If you’re not eating dietary fiber, your immune system may be existing in kind of a simmering pro-inflammatory state,” explains Justin L. Sonnenburg, PhD, associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine. This is the very state that makes us susceptible to various “Western,” chronic diseases.
“Our diet and deteriorated microbiota are really a major piece of the puzzle in trying to understand why Western diseases are rising like crazy,” Sonnenburg says. Research from his lab is proving that fiber plays a big role in promoting good bacteria.
Yet, the Western diet is packed full of processed, sugary food devoid of much fiber at all. It is very, very different from the diets our ancestors ate.
You might have heard or are currently practicing the Paleo diet, relating to the pre-agricultural hunting-gathering diets of our distant ancestors around the world. Today some scientists are redefining the practices of our ancestors not as hunter-gatherers, but as gatherer-hunters.
Why? My personal experience as a superfood hunter observing cultures around the world is that hunting by modern traditional societies even with the best modern equipment is a medium-to-low percentage return rate. So people across time and space have had to rely on easier-to-access foods such as tubers (potatoes, carrots, maca, turnips, beets, etc.), which can store for prolonged periods of time. Tubers of the past were different — more fibrous — as observed in modern gatherer-hunter societies such as the Hadza from Africa who collect wild tubers and other foods. Today’s tubers can still offer quality fiber to your diet including turnips (shown above). Note: one cup of cooked (mashed) turnip root contains 3 grams of fiber. Eat the greens and it’s even better, as one cup of the greens adds an extra a 5 grams of dietary fiber and only 30 calories.
Our ancestors ate much more fiber, by some estimates on the magnitude of 10X more. This translated to more food for our gut microbes that evolved to make use of the undigested particles such as fiber for their nutritional needs.
Don’t underestimate the power of fiber in your body.
The Times article focuses mostly on one single gut microbe species: Akkermansia muciniphila. This strain is linked to leanness and better glucose tolerance in tests. In a recent study, overweight and obese adults followed a six-week calorie-restricted diet while increasing their fiber intake. People who tested for more Akkermansia in their gut from the very start had better clinical measures following the diet.
“We discovered that the patients who exhibited higher amounts of Akkermansia were the patients who had a very strong improvement in cholesterol, in glycemia, in waist to hip ratio and also a reduction in different parameters in both cardiovascular disease and risk factors,” reported Patrice D. Cani, PhD, professor and group leader of the Metabolism and Nutrition Research Group at Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium.
Higher levels of Akkermansia, the findings suggest, seem to have favorable effects on health. But gut health as we know it would not be possible without a properly balanced, functional, and well-nourished microbial community.
Because these microbial communities work in a community, no one species — including Akkermansia — is key to your health.
That means you don’t just have to worry about fiber or any singular food for a specific microbial species linked to a particular health benefit. Instead, eat food — real food — and eat a variety of seasonal, organic plant-based foods that agree with you. Eating the whole food is the key: “If the things we eat have been processed – manipulated, broken apart, adulterated, with most of the fiber (and nutrients) thrown away – then we may end up consuming something that’s food, technically speaking, but lacks many of the health benefits that eating is supposed to bring us. We get calories – which we need to survive of course – but little else. None of the nutrition.” And not much of the fiber that the good gut bacteria in our digestive system needs for balance.” (SuperLife, pg 14). (You can read much more on fiber and nutrition in the book!).
The new research is headed in the right direction and I applaud these scientists for their time and effort. The intertwined relationship between nature, nurture and our personal moment-to-moment decisions shape our very own version of a SuperLife. Learn more on microbes, gut bacteria, and superfoods from around the world at www.SuperLife.com.
Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits
Nutrients. 2013 Apr; 5(4): 1417–1435.
Published online 2013 Apr 22. doi: 10.3390/nu5041417
Mechanisms linking dietary fiber, gut microbiota and colon cancer prevention
World J Gastrointest Oncol. 2014 Feb 15; 6(2): 41–51.
Published online 2014 Feb 15. doi: 10.4251/wjgo.v6.i2.41
Impact of dietary fiber fermentation from cereal grains on metabolite production by the fecal microbiota from normal weight and obese individuals.
J Med Food. 2013 Sep;16(9):862-7. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2012.0292.
How to Really Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet Is Half-Baked
June 3, 2013 http://www.scientificamerican.com
You May Be on a Paleo Diet, but Is Your Microbiome?
Jun 21, 2015 in The Good Gut
A Survey of Modulation of Gut Microbiota by Dietary Polyphenols
BioMed Research International
Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 850902, 15 pages
Darin Olien’s health and wellness company, SuperLife, headquartered in Malibu, CA, shares resources and breaking research that demystify health, fitness, nutrition, and longevity into simple daily actions. Olien’s fad-free, super simple rules of healthy eating and living create life-long wellness and the opportunity to live a SuperLife – the greatest expression of life possible!
About Darin Olien:
Nicknamed “The Indiana Jones of Superfoods,” Darin Olien is a widely recognized exotic superfoods hunter, supplement formulator, and environmental activist who travels the planet discovering new and underutilized medicinal plants. He works closely with thousands of international farmers, growers, and manufacturers to get high-quality, fair-trade superfood and herbal commodities out to market. Since 2005 he has sourced more than 300 foods and ingredients from around the world, working directly with the people of Peru, Bhutan, the Amazon region, the Himalayas, the South Pacific, and many other countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
Olien is a renowned authority on nutrition, hydration, and the potency of foods and herbs, which he writes about in his new book, SuperLife: The 5 Forces That Will Make You Healthy, Fit, and Eternally Awesome. The book offers resources for simple lifestyle changes that create long term-health. It is a fad-free, myth-busting, individualized approach to health developed from Olien’s 20+ years of travel and research around the world.