Protein has been enjoying the spotlight for the past decade or so and still is, and rightfully so. Studies show that it’s better if you evenly distribute the amount of protein you eat over three meals rather than eating little at breakfast, more at lunch and a bunch at dinner. You can read about that more here Getting Enough Protein. Is it All About Timing? And while protein timing is important, there’s a new nutritional sweetheart in town: fiber, and fiber is quickly becoming the new protein, but why?
Fiber, or ‘roughage’ if you’re going old school, has long been promoted as the darling of constipation prevention and management. Fair enough, getting more fiber is important when it comes to being a proud pooper but this not why fiber is so hot right now; nope, it’s all about the intimate relationship between fiber and the gut bacteria, or microbiota. Even though research has barely scratched the surface, once again we are reaffirming that the food we eat is about so much more than the basics of energy, vitamins & minerals.
Fiber Promotes Healthy Gut Microbiota
In simple terms, fiber is a type of carbohydrate but, unlike other carbs, it cannot be broken down into digestible sugar molecules. Therefore, fiber passes through the intestinal tract relatively intact. Foods high in fiber have been shown to have health benefits like aiding regularity as mentioned above, as well as, increasing satiety or the sense of fullness after eating, slowing down digestion which may help to prevent blood sugar spikes, and help to balance blood lipids like triglycerides, HDL and LDL ‘cholesterol’.
Unlike fiber, carbohydrate-rich foods like pulses [chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans], grains [rice, quinoa, barley, etc.] and grain products [bread, pasta, bagels etc.], and starch vegetables [potato, sweet potato] and fruits [bananas, plantain] can be digested by humans for the most part but, because digestion isn’t’ 100% efficient, some of it, about 10% of the starch we eat, passes through undigested.
As well, certain forms of starch are resistant to digestion – cleverly called resistant starch – and can also pass through undigested.
When fiber and certain starches meander along the digestive tract and into our large bowel, or colon, they serve as a food source for our gut bacteria or microbiota. So, because these fibers and starches feed the microbiota, the microbiota are able to grown and reproduce, all of which ensures we have a healthy number, and healthy diversity of, microbiota which ultimately helps keep the host, e.g. ‘us’, healthy as well.
Microbitoa – The New Frontier
It wasn’t that long ago when no one was talking about microbiota in a meaningful way. At nutrition conferences or symposia, there might be 1 session on the gut and/or how/why gut health is something that we should be looking at. Last year I went to a one-day symposium where the theme for the entire event WAS on microbiota and its role in various diseases.
While scientists don’t know what exactly a healthy or ideal microbiota profile or population is, it’s known that they play a huge role in health and disease. We know they play a big part:
- in how get energy from food which means they influence our body weight and risk for obesity
- in our mood regulation, feelings and emotional well-being including depression and anxiety
- with how the body produces and uses hormones
- by promoting gut motility and function
- by preventing gut barrier dysfunction or ‘leaky gut’
- by strengthening our immune systems
- protecting us from intestinal pathogens
- minimizing the gut-brain dysfunction (disruption in the normal cooperativeness between the gut and the brain, each affecting the other, a.k.a. ‘gut-brain axis’)
- by positivity affecting circulating blood fats
- enhancing our body’s ability to respond to, and withstand stress
- influencing brain, liver, kidney, skin and vaginal function and health
This is pretty amazing when you think of it – mind boggling to say the least – so we should never take them for granted; loving our microbiota should be one of our top priorities .Foods rich in different types of fiber, as well as, resistant starch is the foundation of a healthy, happy, diverse and fortified microbiota population and this is why fiber is so hot right now.
What are you doing to support your microbiota?