A missing ingredient in many processed foods linked to huge health benefits
March 19, 2018
Steve Trapasso, Program Coordinator for Seeds of Hope’s Garden-Based Nutrition Education Program
Fiber is the missing ingredient in most processed foods that are a big part of the western diet. This is unfortunate, because a diet rich in fiber has long been known to reduce the risk of many morbidities.
Diabetes, heart disease and even arthritis are just some of the ailments whose risks are reduced when a diet rich in fiber is consumed. It even lowers mortality rates!
Now that we all know that eating fiber is good for us, notably the kind found in fruits and vegetables, we are curious about the underlying reason. Well, recent research suggests that the fiber we are consuming is the main source of food for our beneficial gut microbiota (good bacteria).
This is important in multiple ways. Researchers at Georgia State University found that when feeding mice a low fiber, high fat diet (similar to our own Western Diet) their beneficial gut bacteria plummeted because their food source (fiber) was cut off. Along with changes to the bacteria, researchers also observed changes to the mice themselves. Their intestines got smaller, and its mucus layer thinner. As a result, bacteria wound up much closer to the intestinal wall, and that encroachment triggered an immune reaction. This immune reaction led to rapid inflammation that became chronic, with the mice developing metabolic syndrome and obesity within a few days. The problem with chronic inflammation is that it may interfere with how the body uses the calories in food, storing more of it as fat rather than burning it for energy.
After seeing these results, researchers began adding fiber to the diets of the mice and immediately saw the health of the mice improve. Their good bacteria levels increased, inflammation decreased and weight declined significantly. However, doctors caution that using only one type of fiber can limit its potential health impacts. They say this is because we depend on a number of different kinds of dietary fiber from plants. It’s possible that each type of fiber feeds a particular set of bacteria, which send their own important signals to our bodies regarding immunity, inflammation and overall health. The hypothesis that certain types of fiber have specific bacteria tailored to consume them gives us more evidence that eating a well-rounded, varied, fiber rich diet is best for optimal health.
With this in mind, we would do well to seek out foods that are packed with fiber. These foods include: green vegetables, orange vegetables, raspberries, pears, apples, almonds, every type of bean and whole grains such as quinoa, oats and whole wheat cereals and pastas.