Sure you’ve heard you need fiber, but I’d bet you don’t get enough. Why do we need fiber, what does fiber do for us, and how do I get enough fiber? We’ll cover these questions and when you know the answers, I’m sure you’ll be motivated to action.
TLDR: Too long, didn’t read version
- For optimum health, you should be getting 10 grams of soluble fiber for every 1000 calories you eat.
- Get some form of fiber, either vegetables or beans, with every meal you eat (eat meals don’t snack).
- Keep a decent fiber supplement on hand and take it any time you want to eat a meal that doesn’t provide fiber.
Why do we need Fiber?
Once upon a time, in the ancient past, we used to eat fiber. Really, anything you ate that didn’t have calories in it could be considered fiber. Things like crickets, tree bark, flowers, animal fur, plant husk, the dirt we didn’t wash off; all fiber. And in the ancient past we probably ate a lot of fiber. Now a days we’re too civilized to eat bark or bugs or dirt, and at the same time we also live in a civilized culture where 70% of our population dies from metabolic related diseases. I’m going to make the bold claim that fiber is one of the missing keys to avoiding metabolic disease. We humans evolved with fiber in our diet, and simply because we adapted to eating this way, our body needs it to work properly, just like we evolved under the sun and need it for vitamin D. So why do we need fiber? Because our survival is at stake without it. You’re probably not going to drop dead when you don’t get fiber the way you might drop dead if you don’t breathe, but make no mistake, given enough abuse, your body will stop working properly if you don’t get fiber, leading to a lifetime of pain, disability, and premature death.
Well enough of that doom and gloom. Fiber isn’t that metaphorical term paper you had to do in school, quite the contrary, there are noticeable benefits to taking fiber that are as strong as any medication. Let’s take a look at what fiber can do for us.
What does fiber do for us?
Fiber keeps us feeling full
When we put food mass in our stomach we feel full. What’s usually overlooked is that the feeling of fullness is not triggered by how much calories we take in, but by the volume of food we eat. So in order to feel full, we should be eating for volume not calories. Unfortunately, if someone else is making your food as a business, there’s a good chance that food will be low in essential nutrients, lower in fiber, and high in calories. In order to feel full, you just need volume. This is why soup can fill you up for a short time, and why fiber, that has no calories, is a great addition to your diet.
If your stomach is filled with fiber volume, it’s not going to have room for tons of extra volume from calorie-dense foods. Calories are the number one source of metabolic stress (and damage) on the body, so limiting calories is a great way to limit wear and tear on the body. Now I’m not saying don’t eat, I’m saying, when you eat a diet that’s high in nutrients, high in fiber, and low in calories, you limit the metabolic damage that accumulates over time that we call aging.
Fiber Regulates how much energy your body spends
Can you say free calorie burning? When you put food mass in your stomach, like fiber, it stretches. When you stomach stretches, it triggers a hormone called Ghrelin which adjusts the proportion of energy going to ATP production body-wide. Take two people on an empty stomach, give one of them fiber, and put them both to work at their desk job. Ann, who took the fiber supplement, is now burning MORE calories than Carol who didn’t. Simply because Ann’s body thinks it took in food, it will spend calories fueling her brain with extra brain power. This might sound like cheating but remember, in the ancient past, many diets consisted of lots of non-caloric fiber.
Fiber keeps your mood in the right place by making your immune system and your brain happy
Immune system? Brain? What does fiber have to do with your nervous system? Quite a lot actually. It’s all very technical but just know this. The gut is also known as the enteric nervous system, or, the second brain. 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels. To quote a UCLA Medical scientist studying the effect of food on our mood, “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut”. More on the second brain can be found here.
When you take in fiber, your gut and your gut’s bacteria have something to do. Have you ever had a pet fish? It was so nice to feed your fish and watch him happily eat the little flakes off the surface of the water, remember that? Your Gut is a lot like that. When you eat fiber it’s not for you as much as it’s for your gut bacteria. Think of your gut bacteria as your new goldfish. You feed them fiber because it makes them happy. You don’t want your gold fish to die right? Just feed him and watch how happy he is. When he’s happy, you’re happy. See how that works? Your gut bacteria work just like that. They influence your mood.
Fiber is strait gut food. If you eat something that has no fiber and all calories you’ll notice you get a sugar rush, and then a crash. Let’s say we do a little experiment. We put you in a lab, have you meditate, we then have you eat three cupcakes, and then we have you meditate again. What you’d notice it you would get very warm and jumpy at first, like you were on amphetamines. There would be elation at first, then a peak of energy, then a jittery comedown phase. You’d notice sweating more than normal, possibly itchiness. People that eat lots of carbs notice skin problems frequently because your goes from the extreme of overproduction to underproduction of skin oils, sweat, and energy, like throwing gas on a fire. After that you’d notice restlessness, grumpiness, hunger, shakiness, and all the negative emotions that come with it. A general icky sensation. You may come to realize the strong sense that food is a drug, and you’d be right. Food is the most powerful drug there is. We just get caught up with eating because it’s a necessity, but make no mistake, food can lead to addictive cycles, cycles that negate health and long term wellbeing.
Your gut is also where your immune system lives. 80 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive system. I don’t need to go into the importance of having an immune system really but think about this. Your immune system communicates and works very closely with your gut microbes. It’s almost like your gut is a city with its own economy, citizens, infrastructure, and government. When you eat, you put money into the economy and the bacteria work with it. Fiber, is like giving an economy infrastructure, jobs, and public services. If you just ate sugar, it would be like raining money down in the streets, which is nice for about 30 minutes, until inflation hits, everyone goes bust and then the rioting takes over. The only citizens/bacteria to survive are the ones who thrive on disaster, like criminals.
Best remember, your gut is a city that you care for. Make sure to give them fiber so they can make you happy and keep your immune system running tip top. As a side experiment, if you’d like to truly and deeply know how important nutrition and fiber are to you, try the same meditation experiment we laid out earlier, only replace the cupcakes with a decent fiber supplement. I regularly have my first calorie meal at lunch and have fiber for breakfast. It has to be experienced to really appreciate.
How much fiber is enough and where do I find fiber?
I hope I’ve fully convinced you and motivated you to get enough fiber for health, happiness, and longevity, but where do I find fiber, and how much is enough?
How much fiber is enough fiber for optimum health?
You should be getting 10 grams of soluble fiber for every 1000 calories you eat.
The first thing I tell my clients to do is use Myfinesspal to track their current food. Myfitnesspal is a simple way to tell how much fiber, protein, fats, and calories are in your current meals. Let’s say you get 2400 calories. Then you should be getting 24g of fiber. Let’s say you get 1200 calories. Then you should be getting 12g of fiber.
Where do I find fiber?
There’s actually different kinds of fiber; soluble and insoluble. You really want soluble fiber to feed your positive mood/goldfish/micro-biome/internal city/immune system. Insoluble fiber works for burning calories, making you feel full, keeping your colon happy and helping to mitigate metabolic damage. They’re both good. Get soluble fiber minimum and the rest can be insoluble.
The first thing I’d say is get a couple fiber supplements for those times you want to eat things that don’t have fiber in them. Teach yourself this basic rule: If I eat something without fiber, I have to take a fiber supplement first to go with it. This is the adult equivalent to eating your vegetables. Strangely enough, the best source of soluble fiber IS vegetables. Most vegetables are literally micronutrients trapped in soluble fiber. Beans and whole grains are the next good source on the list, which come with calories along with micronutrients and fiber.
For full details on the science of fiber and intake recommendations, check out this page from Linus Pauling Inst.