Fiber: The Forgotten Nutrient
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
I resisted the urge to dive into fiber when I discussed complex carbs in the last post because it deserves a lot of attention - an entire blog post's worth. Hopefully this post will further illustrate why you should say YAY to carbs.
Day 13: Gut and Brain Health
One of my favorite things to talk to clients about is the "forgotten nutrient". I call fiber the forgotten nutrient because it's not really classified as a nutrient since it's not absorbed in the way that vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients are. In fact, insoluble fiber is not absorbed at all, its main role is to help push waste, (aka poop) out. This may not sound very spectacular, but this is important since waste that has been sitting in the colon for an extended amount of time will push on the walls, in turn increasing your risk for diverticulitis.
There isn't a hard and fast rule about how often you should have a bowel movement, but the general consensus is anywhere between 3 times a day to 3 times a week is normal. I realize this advice isn't all that helpful. My advice, though, is to watch any changes in frequency, color, and consistency in your stool. For example, if you are used to going every day and then notice you are 3 times a day, that may be a sign that something is off, despite it falling in the normal range. Make no mistake, talking about bowel health is very important and one of my favorite topics, but for the sake of not making this entire post about poo, I want to refer to the Bristol stool chart which gives a great illustration of types of stools.
Soluble fiber is the second type of fiber. It helps absorb water, still making stools bulky, yet easy to pass, therefore preventing constipation. However, the most important function of soluble fiber actually has nothing to do with bowel movements. Soluble fiber acts as a prebiotic for your microbiome. This means that fiber is food for the bacteria in your intestines. Similarly to how microorganisms live on our skin, there are microorganisms in the large intestines called the gut microbiota that make up close to 4 lbs. of biomass. Each individual has a unique microbiome consisting of multiple different strains of bacteria.
A ton of research has gone into gut health and the gut-brain axis over the last 20 years, but more recently, we can now test your microbiome accurately and rather inexpensively. The effects of having a healthy biome is profound, to say the least. The gut biome plays a huge role in preventing a variety of chronic diseases, immunity, digestion, anxiety, and depression to name just a few.
How do you maintain a healthy gut? Fiber! Reach for plant based foods like nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. This helps to ensure a balanced "field of flowers" within your gut where one species is not overpowering others. Behavior change is incredibly difficult, so start by adding a few teaspoons of Metamucil to your morning ice water for an added dose of fiber and your gut will soon thank you.
If you'd like to set an appointment to do a complete health and wellness assessment and discuss testing your biome, please click below.
Jen Pfeilfer, MS, APD
Dr. Thomas R. Schneider, Medical Director