Fiber – Your body will tell you what it needs

Everyone talks about fiber and how we need to eat more of it. Our bodies ask for it every day by giving us clues on what kind it needs.  To be honest with you, sometimes when I eat too much fiber, I just don’t feel good.  So, instead of suffering from eating too much, or too little, I’ve decided to do a little research on this carbohydrate (starch) and see if I can figure out what kind of fiber my body is asking for.

The first thing I learned from researching is that dietary fiber is found only in plant foods and amazingly humans don’t have the enzymes to break it down, so really, we can’t digest it.  Whole grains, for example, contain a lot of fiber, which we start to breakdown in our stomachs and small intestines.  But the fiber just passes through to our gastrointestinal tract like a broom to sweep out the digestive tract.  Once it reaches the large intestine, it becomes fermented by our gut microbiome where it turns in to short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that travel through our body, through our blood stream, for energy, or used by intestinal cells.  Although whole grains contain a lot of fiber, fruits, vegetables and legumes (especially Mediterranean diet types) create the best fiber with the most SCFA.

There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.  Each has a benefit in the digestive tract and knowing which type your body needs, can help prevent (or alleviate) unwanted symptoms like diarrhea or constipation.

Soluble fiber attracts water like a sponge and turns to gel during digestion, which slows digestion.  As you can tell from the description, soluble fiber would be good for anyone suffering from diarrhea or loose stools.  Because it slows how fast foods are digested, it can help lower blood sugar, which is a great choice if you battle with diabetes.  It also makes you feel full longer which can aid in weight loss.  This type of fiber is fermented by gut bacteria in the large intestines and provides nutrition to the microbiome.

Examples of soluble fiber foods:

Oats, oat bran, dried beans and lentils, carrots, applesauce, pears, oranges, strawberries, bananas, onions, chickory, sunchokes, avocado, potatoes and sweet potatoes, sunflower seed and brussels sprouts.

Insoluble fiber passes through the gut quickly, which makes it the perfect choice for anyone suffering from constipation.  This type of fiber doesn’t provide the body with nutritional needs or feed our microbiome, but it does keep things moving through the colon and keeps things “cleaned out”.   This type of fiber helps prevent infections of the gut, hemorrhoids, heart disease and may prevent some types of cancers.

Insoluble fiber comes from fruits with skins, uncooked vegetables, nuts and bran, brown rice and whole grain flours and is more rough on intestinal lining than soluble fiber.

Examples of insoluble fiber foods:

Zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages, leafy greens, uncooked vegetables, raw peppers, flax and chia seeds, whole grains, fruits with skins and berries, nuts and legumes.

One last thing to keep in mind about fiber.  If you are bloated, have abdominal pain and fatigue after eating fiber, you may want to get tested for something called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).   SIBO happens when bacteria in the small intestine get out of balance and over grown.  Although there can be almost 1,000 different species of bacteria in our gut, most is meant to be located in the large intestine and colon where they help to breakdown food.  When there is an imbalance in the gut and more bacteria starts to grow in the small intestine, it can create a multitude of symptoms from abdominal pain, bloating and food intolerances to physical pain, fatigue and unexplained vitamin and mineral deficiencies or leaky gut.

As I learned from Dr. Amy Myers article titled 10 Signs You Have Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), the good news is that there are several tests that can diagnose SIBO and it can be treated with dietary change, antibiotics and/or probiotics.   It’s certainly worth mentioning to your doctor if you feel there is an imbalance in your gut from poor diet, overused antibiotics or autoimmune conditions like Chrohn’s disease.

After all this research, the one take away I learned is to increase fiber slowly to prevent your stool from moving too quickly or too slow.  You will also want to drink plenty of water to turn that soluble fiber into the gel consistency that your body needs it to be in to aid digestion and push that insoluble through your digestive tract and through your colon.  Fiber can’t do its job without water, and you don’t want to create and imbalance in the gut, which could lead to other problems like SIBO.  As you can see, the choices of fiber is important to your health so listen to your body, it will tell you what you need.

Allison Webster, R. (2019). Gut Check: Whole Grains and the Microbiome – IFIC Foundation. [online] IFIC Foundation. Available at: https://foodinsight.org/gut-check-whole-grains-and-the-microbiome/ [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].

Mayo Clinic. (2019). How much fiber is found in common foods?. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948 [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].

Stop Colon Cancer Now. (2019). High-Fiber Diet Shown To Boost Colon Health. [online] Stopcoloncancernow.com. Available at: https://www.stopcoloncancernow.com/spread-awareness/news/high-fiber-diet-shown-to-boost-colon-health [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].

Myers, A. (2019). 10 Signs You Have Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) – Amy Myers MD. [online] https://www.amymyersmd.com. Available at: https://www.amymyersmd.com/2018/04/10-signs-small-intestinal-bacterial-overgrowth-sibo/ [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].

BMJ. “High dietary fiber intake linked to health promoting short chain fatty acids: Beneficial effects not limited to vegetarian or vegan diets.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 September 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150929070122.htm>.

O’Brien, MS, S. (2019). Top 20 Foods High in Soluble Fiber. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-soluble-fiber [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].

Decker, F. (2019). Best Sources of Soluble Fiber From Natural Foods. [online] Healthyeating.sfgate.com. Available at: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/sources-soluble-fiber-natural-foods-2125.html [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].

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Local and Seasonal Foods for the Gut

seasonal-eatingFor a Celiac sufferer, nothing should pass by the lips that could damage their already fragile intestinal tract.  Most importantly, they must avoid anything that could contain gluten.

In case you don’t already know, gluten is a protein that is found in many grains, but most commonly in wheat, barley and rye (there are many others).  Ingesting any gluten containing grain will trigger a reaction in the intestines of a Celiac (an autoimmune disease), causing their villi (tiny finger like hairs) in the gut to atrophy (or shrink).  This reaction prevents nutrients from being absorbed into the body, thus creating nutritional deficiencies and a multitude of symptoms (bloating, gas, diarrhea, pain, anemia, etc.).  In the non-autoimmune condition called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), the symptoms range even farther than just intestinal.  Many suffer from anxiety, depression, joint pain and migraines, just to name a few.  For a wheat and/or gluten allergy, sufferers must carry an EpiPen to counteract the anaphylaxis response that could be generated from ingesting ingredients.  Three designations of gluten disorders, but all with the same result…ABSOLUTELY NO EATING GLUTEN.

Avoiding gluten containing grains is stressful enough, but my feeling is that they should not only avoid gluten, but try and stay away from foods that don’t support a healthy immune system (i.e. sugar, food dyes, processed foods, etc.).  My recommendation is to choose naturally gluten-free foods to support the immune system.  We naturally are what we eat, so choosing quality foods is important for anyone with a compromised immune system.

One way to support a healthy immune system is to eat foods that are whole, clean, local, seasonal and organic.  I’m not saying that prepacked gluten-free products don’t have a place, but keeping balance in your diet is an important practice.  Where is the best place to do that?  One place to start, is shopping on the outside aisles (fresh produce, dairy and meats) of the grocery store.  BUT, the best place to shop, is the local farm markets in your town.farm4

Here in Eastern, Pennsylvania there are farm markets almost every day of the week from spring until late fall.  Finding a winter market takes a little more work, but they are there.  Wednesday is farm market day in my town and quite honestly, it’s the best day of my week.  Buying local is good for everyone!  Supporting local farmers keeps money and jobs close to home, helps preserve farms, open space and supports families in our community.  And just as important, foods locally produced can help heal the body.  Nutrient content goes down as soon as fresh foods are picked, therefore, the closer to home the food is grown, the more nutrients it will have.  This is not only true for fruits and vegetables, but meat, poultry and dairy as well.

In my opinion, local ingredients produce more flavorful foods as well.  Fresh picked ingredients are usually in the hands of consumers within 24 hours of harvesting.  Compare that to foods grown and picked on the other side of the earth that are shipped to warehouses before getting into stores.  It could take weeks to get to you, after being picked, which certainly affects taste and nutrients.

Another thing to remember is that many foods are picked before fully ripened and exposed to ethylene gas to change their appearance to look riper.  Tomatoes are a good example of this, they are picked green and unripe, then gassed with ethylene to give their appearance a more red and ripe look on the outside.  Food can stay on the vine longer when grown locally, since transportation distances to stores is closer, which helps their flavors build.

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The other wonderful benefit of farm markets is finding seasonal foods to eat.  Why does eating seasonally matter on a gluten-free diet you ask?  Our bodies adapt to the environment we live in, specifically the different seasons/climate in the geographic area.  Seasonally rotating foods in (and out) of our diet keeps our immune system in balance. Eating foods out of season (or climate) can overload our systems, which may contribute to food intolerance/imbalances and disrupt our immune system.

A good example of eating seasonally is preparing our bodies for winter.  The foods available here in Pennsylvania during fall are high in vitamins A, D & C (immune supportive) rich foods.  Winter squashes, like pumpkin, butternut and delicatta, as well as ginger, onions, peppers, apples, pears and honey help to make our immune system strong for the coming cold winter.farm1

Eating fats in winter helps to keep us warm and conserve energy.  Low sodium foods, beef, eggs, mushrooms, dairy and root vegetables support our systems and help keep us warm in the winter.farm3

In spring, there will be more cleansing choices to help detox our bodies from winter.  Dark green leafy foods (lettuce, kale, spinach, arugula, etc.) help clean out the liver from the heavy fats consumed in winter.

Summer foods provide liquids to prevent dehydration and keep us cool (melons, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries and lean meats and fish).

Finally, a note on eating organic whenever possible, is always a plus for the gut.  Less pesticides and fungicides on our foods means less in our bodies.  Remember, USDA certified organic means NO GMO ingredients or hormones can be used in foods including livestock.  It’s also better for the environment with less run off into our water and in the air.

My recommendation has always been to try to buy fresh and local whenever you can and maybe do a little preserving or freezing in the summer to enjoy locally produced foods all winter.

To learn more about eating seasonally buy my book, 3 Steps to Gluten-Free Living on Amazon.