More Fiber, Less Disease
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].”
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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
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