Thanks to a British book published in 1970, the world came to see fiber as an essential part of a healthy diet. Author Denis Burkitt studied the differences between the health and eating habits of native Ugandans and British soldiers who were stationed there. The Ugandans rarely suffered from common Western diseases; Burkitt concluded that the reason involved the Ugandans’ high fiber diet.
Today, the research on fiber, digestive health and overall wellness has exploded with exciting new discoveries. Soluble fiber, in particular, is raising the profile of certain complex carbohydrates — and improving the health of those who consume plenty of it.
What Soluble Fiber Does
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, and it passes through the intestines nearly intact; it forms the basis of stool. Soluble fiber does dissolve in water. It slows movement of food through the lower gut, delays sugar absorption, reduces cholesterol by trapping the bile secreted by the gallbladder, and produces gases that fertilize the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria, which reduce the symptoms of a number of gastrointestinal disorders. Today, soluble fibers are commonly known by a new name: prebiotics. These prebiotic fibers are sturdier than the probiotic bacteria found in foods such as yogurt because they are not affected by stomach acid, time, heat or cold.
Prebiotic soluble fiber occurs naturally in a variety of foods. Unfortunately, most people don’t eat enough of these prebiotic-rich foods to gain the health benefits they provide. Unless your physician has prescribed a low fiber diet, you should plan to eat upward of 25 grams of fiber every day — but because most foods only contain 1 or 2 grams of soluble prebiotic fiber, getting enough is a challenge. Onions, whole grains, chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks and bananas all contain prebiotic fiber. If eating several cups of raw onions every day isn’t your cup of tea, a prebiotic supplement is a great way to gain fiber’s health benefits easily and painlessly.
Although we cannot definitively state that a prebiotics-rich diet will solve lower gut disorders such as Crohn’s, IBS, IBD, polyps and others, dozens of studies demonstrate a clear link between gut microbiota (bacteria) and overall health. Patients with these conditions — and other conditions such as obesity, anxiety and diabetes — often demonstrate low levels of healthy gut bacteria. Prebiotics are proven growers of healthy bacteria — and people who increase prebiotic fiber intake often enjoy eased symptoms — so every day, the patterns grow stronger.