Health is wealth and digestive health is King! Regular daily bowel movements make us feel well, healthy and happy when this internal system is working like a well-oiled machine: food goes in = poop comes out.
Eating a nutritious and high fiber diet is extremely important to me for two reasons:
1. When I was young I suffered from extreme constipation for years due to a poor diet ( very fussy eater) consisting of meat sausages and sauce (dinner), devon and sauce sandwiches on white bread (lunch) and crumpets with honey for breakfast. I distinctly remember being doubled over in pain after school outside our house with the neighbours trying to work out what the problem was.
My mother gave me coffee enemas (amongst other treatments) when nothing was moving. Not something a 10 year old enjoys- or anyone really! This was not a once off, it occurred regularly. Everything changed when my father was diagnosed with bowel cancer at age 42 and at this time we all cleaned up our diet to become as healthy as possible, and not surprisingly all my constipation issues vanished.
2. The death of my father at age 43 due to the spread of cancer from his bowel to his liver had a huge impact on me and my life including my outlook on health and wellbeing today. A lack of dietary fiber and adequate water in his daily diet was one reason, and this could have been been prevented and changed before it was too late.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, so people following an extremely low-carb diet may be prone to poor digestive health, especially if they don't get enough variety of vegetables and don't drink enough water.
Fiber comes in 2 different forms- soluble and insoluble.
We can't digest these, but they have important jobs. Our GI bacteria love to ferment them, producing short chain fatty acids which can provide various health benefits.
SOLUBLE FIBER - it is called soluble because its carbohydrate molecules are water soluble; that is they turn to a gel in water (think chia seed puddings). Soluble fiber picks up excess bile waste, cholesterol and helps excrete fat soluble byproducts eg. sex hormone metabolites.
Examples of soluble fiber in food are:
oats and oat bran
beans and peas
flax seed, chia seeds
fruits like oranges, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, apples
vegetables such as artichokes, tomatoes and carrots
INSOLUBLE FIBER is found primarily in the structures that make up plants' rigid cells walls. Insoluble fibers will add bulk to stools and help ensure regular bowel movements.
Dark leafy green vegetables
Fruit and vegetable skins
Wholegrain seed hulls
Seeds and nuts
And then there is RESISTANCE STARCH - it's like a third type of dietary fiber. As it's name implies, it resists digestion. Foods that have been cooked then cooled contain resistance starch molecules including cold cooked potatoes, cold cooked oats, cold cooked pasta or sushi rice (see, leftovers are good for you!)
Like dietary fiber we can't fully break down or absorb the nutrients from resistance starch- our intestinal bacteria turns it into short-chain fatty acids.
So fiber can:
help us feel full longer
lower our blood lipids and cholesterol
lower our risk of colon cancer
keep things moving through our GI tract; and
boost our overall gut health.
Although the minimal recommended intake for fiber is 25g/day, the optimal amount seems to be closer to 35g/day for women and 48g/day for men.
Not every person will do well with this amount of fiber. Some people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diverticulosis may feel better with less. If you are adding more fiber into your diet- do it gradually so your body gets used to digesting it- especially beans and legumes, it takes time- don't overload it all at once!
References: Precision Nutrition - The Essentials of Nutrition and Coaching. Unit 2- The Science of Nutrition.
Krista Scott-Dixon (PhD), John Berardi (PhD), CSCS; Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS; Helen Kollias, PhD, CSCS; Camille DePutter