Leonard Smith, M.D., is a renowned gastrointestinal, vascular and general surgeon as well as an expert in the use of nutrition and natural supplementation. As a surgeon, Dr. Smith has first-hand experience of the problems associated with faulty digestion and the surgical necessities they can cause.
For the past 20 years, Dr. Smith has investigated many holistic medical programs, including nutrition, exercise, chelation, stress management and the relevance of mental and spiritual attitudes in healing. Acknowledging the effectiveness of whole organic foods and nutritional supplementation, Dr. Smith strives to stay on the leading edge of research and breakthroughs in the field of functional nutrition.
We hear a lot about how important fiber is, but what exactly is fiber and how do you get it in your diet? Can you get too much fiber?
In this multi-part series on fiber, I will be covering: what fiber is, how to make sure you are getting enough, how to tell if you are getting too much and finally, troubleshooting issues like healthy elimination, constipation and diarrhea.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks and get all of your fiber questions answered!
What Exactly is Fiber?
Fiber is a component of carbohydrates that cannot be digested, but does provide a key role in moving food residue through your digestive system. This is critical for elimination. In fact, lack of fiber can slow transit time of food in your digestive system, which can result in absorption of toxins into your body.
Health Benefits of Fiber
Fiber is not just important for moving food through your digestive tract. It has many health benefits, including reducing the risk of:
- Heart disease
- Colon cancer
- Diverticular disease
- Constipation problems
Fruits and vegetables are fiber rich foods, but could you be getting too much fiber? In this first installment of our multipart series, find out what you need to know about fiber.
Clearly, fiber is a key nutrient to have in your healthy diet. So what are some good fiber rich foods?
Sources and Types of Fiber
You can find fiber infruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. While many Americans are eating processed foods that lack fiber, you can be confident that your Body Ecology program is full of fiber rich food.
In fact, the Body Ecology program recommends you have 80% of each meal as vegetables.This principle alone allows you to have a healthy intake of fiber in addition to fiber rich foods, like the grain-like seeds that Body Ecology recommends.
There are two types of fiber:
Soluble Fiber - Dissolves in water. Upon ingestion, some soluble fiber (pectins, beta-glucans, some gums like guar gum, and mucilages like psyllium) form viscous or gelatinous solutions in your stomach and intestines, which allows for the following:
- Slower emptying of the stomach
- Delayed absorption of some nutrients and sugars in the small intestine
- Lower serum cholesterol
A very important function of many soluble fibers is to be fermented by beneficial bacteria to make short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), namely butyrate, propionate, and acetate. Butyrate both serves as an anti-inflammatory and "fuel of choice" for the cells lining the colon.
Insoluble Fiber - Does not dissolve in water. Here are the benefits of insoluble fiber:
- Holds water you consume in the fiber/food bolus so that a portion of the water can be taken to the colon where it is absorbed. This water absorption takes place mainly in the right and transverse colon.In this process of absorption, your colon hydrates itself. It also sends the remainder of the water with minerals, nutrients, and some short chain fatty acids into the vascular system to be taken up and used by your body.
- Allows the bacteria and a variety of nutrients (especially the SCFAs) in the liquid fecal mass to be spread out over greater areas.
In this way, the bacteria can eat more and multiply, which increases stool bulk (over 50% of the stool volume is bacteria). The increased bulk promotes peristaltic action so that you can eliminate.
Instead of worrying about the type of fiber you are eating, make sure you get enough.
Experts suggest that adults consume 20-35 grams of dietary fiber from a variety of sources per day. Most vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains have both soluble and insoluble fibers in varying ratios.
Unfortunately, when you eat a diet high in processed foods, you are likely getting only 14 - 15 grams of fiber per day, which is the average intake for Americans.
Processed Foods and Your Blood Sugar Levels
Carbohydrates break down into sugars in your system. Fiber rich foods like, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds slow the absorption of sugar into your blood.
In essence, fiber rich food helps regulate your blood sugar levels.
Let's see what happens when you eat refined carbohydrates that have been stripped of fiber:
- You have a meal containing refined carbohydrates (cereal, for example).
- The carbohydrates are absorbed quickly and enzymes break them down. When you break carbohydrates down quickly, it increases the sugar going to your liver.
- If you have elevated blood sugar (glucose), it signals your pancreas to put out more insulin than it should be putting out. Insulin is a hormone that regulates carbohydrate metabolism.
- At lunchtime, you eat a piece of cake, which is a refined carbohydrate also high in sugar.
- This turns to sugar quickly and is absorbed into your gut lining, goes into your liver.
- Your liver sends signals to your pancreas that, if it could speak, would be saying, "Whoa, flooded with sugar!"
- Your pancreas sends out more insulin.
The problem with most processed foods is that they have low (or no) fiber and also contain sugar.
Insulin stays in your body for 5 hours and since you typically eat again before that 5 hours is up, you continue to keep your baseline insulin up and spike it higher with each meal.
This is important because the negative side of too much insulin is increased fat storage and increased inflammation. Eventually, the insulin receptors become resistant…it's like they are no longer listening when your cells and liver start screaming "let the sugar in the cells!"
They can shut down completely or work inefficiently.
Sugar can no longer be normally absorbed, so it goes back to the liver, which cries out to the pancreas again to put out more insulin.
This is a common cycle that can lead to obesity.
Frequently it occurs first in the abdomen (even in thin people) and is known as VAT (visceral adipose tissue) more commonly known as belly fat. This type of fat is definitely associated with heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Fiber to the Rescue
When you eat fiber rich foods, you take in complex carbohydrates, which are made up of sugars. However, these sugars are linked together in a way that allows them to break down much more slowly. They are therefore absorbed gradually into your system.
Eating whole plant foods, like a large salad, would not abnormally increase your blood sugar.
Many grains, like rice, barley, rye, and corn can increase your blood sugar, even though they are complex carbohydrates.
This can happen if a large serving is eaten quickly without having oils or proteins in your meal.
The Body Ecology program supports your fiber AND blood sugar levels because:
- True grains, like rice, barley and corn are not included in stage I of the program. Instead, Body Ecology recommends 4 high-protein, gluten-free "grain-like" seeds.
- Even if you do add true grains in stage 2 of Body Ecology, following the 80/20 rule and the guidelines for healthy fats goes a long way to keeping your blood sugar levels from spiking.
- You are less likely to increase candida activity in your intestines.
- Adding fermented foods and drinks to your meals, like cultured vegetables or probiotic liquids helps even more.
The healthy microflora in fermented foods and drinks "eat up" the sugars as food, helping your body deal with sugars that you do eat.
In addition, fermented foods and drinks, like CocoBiotic, help curb your desire for sugar, aiding in breaking the craving for processes foods.
Fiber and Weight Loss
Some experts suggest that for weight loss, you should eat 35 grams of fiber per day.
By itself, fiber does not help you lose weight, but does so in combination with good hydration (at least 64 ounces of water or more daily), exercise and good elimination, sleep and detoxification. However, fiber is an important part of the equation, as you saw in the example, above.
However, when you eat plenty of whole foods, improve your digestion and include healthy microflora from fermented foods and drinks, you have a recipe for weight loss or healthy weight maintenance.
This is why the Body Ecology program is a perfect solution for obesity and weight maintenance.
Body Ecology: The Right Mix of Fiber
Following the Body Ecology program allows you to get the right mix of soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet.
I believe that too much low fiber processed foods and animal foods are reason we are sick. Whether it's constipation problems, weight gain, type 2 diabetes or heart problems, increasing your fiber intake could be the key to improving your health. Following the Body Ecology program provides a roadmap to healthy foods in the right amounts for your body.
In part 2 of this series on fiber, I will cover what happens when you get too much fiber and what to do about it.
For more information on the Body Ecology system of health and healing, read The Body Ecology Diet, by Donna Gates. It's one of the most important things you can do to increase your fiber and your health.
- Fiber: Start Roughing It! Harvard School of Public Health.
- Tsang, Gloria, R.D. Fiber 101: Soluble Fiber vs Insoluble Fiber
- Fiber. UWSP University Health Service.
- Fiber: Start Roughing It! Harvard School of Public Health.