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More Fiber, Less Disease

Jul. 17, 2013|732 views
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This week, I’ve been talking about the relationship between a diverse, healthy population of bacteria in the gut and good health. The makeup, and especially the diversity, of the different types of bacteria living in your gut have surprising effects on various important aspects of health. We’ve learned that what you eat affects the health of this collective organism.


Fiber is a good example of the kind of often-overlooked benefit one gets from eating plenty of plant foods. Increased fiber intake has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity. Formerly called “roughage,” dietary fiber consists of undigestible plant materials that pass through the gastrointestinal tract. It’s sometimes categorized as either soluble or insoluble, based on whether it dissolves in water or not.


Experts may also classify fiber as dietary or functional. While we may not be able to digest these complex molecules, some of the microbes living in the gut ferment certain fibers, which generates “bioactive” materials. As the name implies, these new substances can have a direct impact on health. Examples of these compounds include short-chain fatty acids, which in turn influence the makeup of the gut microflora. Of course, dietary fiber also helps keep the bowels regular, provided you drink plenty of water.


“The health benefits of dietary fibers include the prevention and mitigation of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer,” wrote researchers from the University of Illinois recently. “By modulating food ingestion, digestion, absorption and metabolism, dietary fibers reduce the risk of [high cholesterol] and [high blood sugar].”  


Kaczmarczyk MM, Miller MJ, Freund GG. The health benefits of dietary fiber: beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism. 2012 Aug;61(8):1058-66. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2012.01.017. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


Slavin JL. Carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and resistant starch in white vegetables: links to health outcomes. Adv Nutr. 2013 May 1;4(3):351S-5S. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003491.


Slavin JL, Lloyd B. Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jul 1;3(4):506-16. doi: 10.3945/an.112.002154.


Vikas Rana, Rakesh Kumar Bachheti, Tara Chand, Anjan Barman. Dietary fibre and human health. International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health, 2011; 4 (2/3/4): 101 DOI: 10.1504/IJFSNPH.2011.044528


Viladomiu M, Hontecillas R, Yuan L, Lu P, Bassaganya-Riera J. Nutritional protective mechanisms against gut inflammation. J Nutr Biochem. 2013 Jun;24(6):929-39. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.01.006. Epub 2013 Mar 27.


Tags:  dietary fiber, chronic illness, prevention