Getting enough fiber is a key part of healthy eating. In this article, we will look at how a high fiber diet can build a healthy digestive system and protect you against a range of chronic diseases.
You have probably heard that fiber is an important part of a healthy diet. But did you know that there are lots of different types of fiber? Some fiber is water-holding and makes stool bigger, softer, and easier to pass. Other types of fiber act as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria in our guts, which boosts our immune systems and our digestion.
If you want to eat healthily, you need to consume a range of sources of fiber — a supplement on its own will not do the job. To get the true benefits, you want to be eating a wide-range of plant- based foods. That is why a big part of what we do here at the Lifestyle Medicine Institute is to support you in bringing more of these foods into your diet.
A typical Western diet is mainly made up of highly processed foods, meat, and dairy. This means it is extremely low in fiber, especially when compared with the optimal diet we recommend at CHIP. People on a low-fiber diet have different types of bacteria in their gut to people who eat a plant-based diet. These gut bacteria have a powerful effect on our health and digestion.
When you make big changes to how you eat, there’s a transition period. Most people notice this kicking in about 10 days after starting our Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP). A high- fiber diet improves your gut microbiome and kills off bad bacteria. The side effect of this change in gut flora is that you can end up feeling gassy or bloated. But it is temporary – after 3-4 weeks, the problem normally goes away. If gas is becoming a real issue, try slowing down the rate at which you introduce new foods. You should also make sure you are drinking enough water, at least eight glasses a day.
One big benefit of high fiber, plant-based diets is that people who eat an optimal diet are far less likely to suffer from constipation. Food passes through their bodies quickly – within 24-30 hours as opposed to 72-96 hours on a typical Western diet. This doesn’t just help to avoid the misery of bloating and constipation – clinical studies have found that people on a whole-plant based diet live longer and weigh less. They are also less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and even depression. That is the power of a high-fiber diet – we can hugely improve our health simply by changing how we eat.
You should be aiming to eat about 40 grams of fiber a day, but most people on a typical Western diet will get just 10-15 grams. The good news is that there are simple switches you can make to increase your fiber intake. The key is to avoid processed foods as much as you can and choose whole-foods instead – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and lentils are all great options. Try swapping white pasta for a whole-wheat alternative or changing your usual breakfast cereal for a bowl of oatmeal, topped with fruit.
We know that changing your diet and lifestyle can be challenging at first. You are not alone – CHIP is here to help you take your health into your own hands. We will empower you with the information and support you need to make real, lasting changes.
Get free help to get your back on track – Dr Sal runs a free weekly webinar sharing his years of professional medical experience. Ask him questions and listen to some of his guest speakers.
For more on the lifestyle medicine approach to good health and healing, join us live every Wednesday at 3pm for our Ask Dr. Sal series with Dr. Sal Lacagnina, Medical Director of the Lifestyle Medicine Institute. Previous sessions are available via the CHIP website.
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