by Jill Jackson, Certified Nutritional Practitioner, NNCP
Did you know that only 5% of US citizens reach their recommended daily fiber intake? That leaves 95% of the population in a fiber deficiency! I am sure Canadians would be the runner up in this shocking statistic. Our bodies are meant to consume fiber, anywhere between 25-50 grams daily depending on our gender, age, and level of health. Let’s consider what fiber is and why we may not be consuming enough.
Fiber has never really had a definition that has been accepted universally. Some health practitioners use the words dietary fiber, crude fiber, or even roughage interchangeably. Here is what we do know about fiber. Fiber is a combination of plant polysaccharides that are resistant to digestion combined with lignins (a class of organic polymers that help make up plant walls/structure). Simply put, fiber is exclusively a plant nutrient meaning it cannot be found in animal products.
I believe fiber consumption has decreased for two main reasons. One, low fiber diets are highly popular without many realizing it! Low-carbohydrate diets have gained popularity dating back to the 1960’s, their rules often removing potentially healthy and high fiber grains. After the low-carb craze, emerged the keto diet, even worse when it comes to fiber intake! No matter what diet is being consumed, if there is low intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, there will be low intake of fiber. However, we know a low carb diet cannot be the issue alone because for many Americans and Canadians 40-60% of their diet is carbohydrate, just not the right kind, leading us into my second fiber related concern. Westernized society relies heavily on packaged and fast foods. The processing and milling of these foods can remove most, if not all of it’s fiber content. In some African countries where there is the least amount of food processing globally and only small amounts of animal products consumed, daily fiber intake can reach 75-100 grams! A contrast to the mere 10-15 grams Americans consume daily. But why should we care about our fiber intake?
Low fiber diets are are associated with chronic constipation, gastrointestinal disorders, colon cancers, diverticulitis, high cholesterol levels and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Fiber is best known to bulk our stool and increase (or slow down) our transit time leading to healthy bowel movements, but it does so much more than that! As our understanding of fiber increases, we have learned that fiber also appears to nourish our gut microbiome (the ecosystem found within our intestines). After a chain of reactions within the gut, fiber acts as a food source for our
“good” gut bacteria contributing to an overall healthier gut microbiome. Fiber also helps with weight management and blood sugar management, the two going hand in hand. Fiber has seen to help draw out toxins and parasites within the body as well. It is a myth that all fiber does is help us use the washroom, it has many roles!
The final question you may be left with, how do I increase my fiber? The easiest way to answer this is through a quote from one of my favorite nutritional textbooks it says “Whenever we increase out intake of plants in comparison to animal foods, we are increasing our fiber intake” – Staying Healthy With Nutrition by Elson M. Haas, MD. It really is simple, we must increase consumption of plants whether it be legumes such as split peas or chickpeas, whole grains like oats and quinoa or fruits and vegetables like pears, avocados, berries, broccoli, or collard greens. (Not to forget nuts and seeds like flax, chia, and pistachios!) When considering your carbohydrate consumption go for the whole grains as opposed to white, processed breads and foods. With a little forethought fiber consumption can be easy!
I hope this blog post has helped you to gain a deeper understanding of how easily fiber consumption can be missed as well as how easy of a problem it is to fix! I challenge you to make an effort to boost your fiber intake this week and I am sure you will reap the benefits of increased energy levels, digestive wellness, and overall stronger vitality.
Jill Jackson, CNP, NNCP