Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Rob
The under-consumption of unrefined plant foods in our diet has resulted in a low fiber intake. The standard American diet is highly lacking in fiber. Sadly, one-third of preschoolers have been found to be constipated. Nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day at a minimum are recommended. Fiber causes an increase in stool size, which has been associated with a decreased cancer risk, specifically colon cancer, as well as lower risk of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, appendicitis, constipation, and diverticulitis.
A plant-based diet high in fiber can flush excess estrogen and cholesterol out of the system. This may help explain why high fiber intake is associated with reduced breast cancer risk. The target minimum fecal output is about half a pound a day. The amount of time it takes food to travel through the body perhaps ideally should be 24-36 hours. And at the same fiber intake, antioxidant rich foods reduce inflammation better than less nutrient-dense foods.
Foods relatively rich in fiber include: dates (date sugar has fiber since it’s just powdered dates), chia seeds, flax seeds, veggie chicken, flaked coconut, dark green leafy vegetables, and beans.
It used to be thought that fiber just passed through us with no effect other than providing bulk. However, it is now known that metabolites are actively produced by our gut bacteria that eat fiber. These compounds may have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-obesity and blood sugar control effects. Fiber has also been found to bind nutrients, so if you juice, you are losing more than just the fiber. Smoothies on the other hand allows for greater absorption of nutrients, although depending on what is in the smoothie, disrupting the fiber may lead to a higher insulin spike.
High fiber diets may also reduce the risk of stroke, high cholesterol and potentially heart disease.
Fiber intake also has possible benefits for hiatal hernia, brain loss, kidney stones, COPD, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, weight loss, improved immunity, and ultimately increased longevity, possibly because fiber may help mimic some of the benefits of calorie restriction.
Image Credit: Amanda Rae. This image has been modified.