Feasting on Fiber

May 22, 2015

Marti Wolfson, who is part of our marvelous culinary education team at Food As Medicine, shared this helpful report after last year’s program. Clearly, we should all be thinking about healthy fiber!

Last year I had the privilege of presenting alongside some of the most influential lifestyle medicine professionals at the Food as Medicine Conference in the Berkshires. While this program is geared towards teaching health professionals how to effectively integrate nutrition into their practices, there were many pearls of wisdom which any layperson could find beneficial in making healthier dietary choices day to day. Of all the nutritional takeaways one was repeated over and over again throughout the presentations: Eat Your Fiber.

These leading presenters ranged from Integrative Nutritionists to Functional MD’s to an herbalist. They all couldn’t say enough about the importance of fiber. I don’t doubt you aren’t aware of this already but ask yourself if you are getting enough in your diet. If you experience constipation, bloating, weight gain, high cholesterol and hot flashes, you may want to think of including more fiber-rich foods into your diet. These include legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.

Naturalist and Nutritionist John Bagnulo, shed light on what we can learn from our foraging days. Our paleo counterparts, as well as a few indigenous people today, consumed 100 grams or more of fiber per day. A typical Neanderthal day in the fall included wild grains (millet, barley and oats), apples, nuts and seeds and wild game. Sadly the average American today consumes about 14 grams per day and most of this fiber is coming from processed wheat in pizza and refined bread products. No wonder we are seeing more digestive problems than ever before. John stresses that fiber is “the most protective macro component of the human diet”. Fiber from vegetables shows significant reductions in chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. How much fiber should you be getting? In general, 25 grams/day will moderately benefit your health and up to 50 grams/day will show more dramatic effects.

Digestion expert, Kathie Swift, stresses the importance of fiber’s role in feeding the microbiota, or bacteria in and on your body. A high-fiber diet increases gut microbiome diversity which provides anti-inflammatory effects in the gut and systemically. Asthma, IBS, depression, weight gain, diabetes and other conditions are influenced by the way in which we feed our gut bacteria. Kathie points out that fermentable fiber, aka prebiotics, should be an essential part of your daily intake. These include chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, garlic, onion, yams and dandelion greens.

Integrative gynecologist, Joel Evans, discussed the importance of dietary fiber for optimal detoxification. Key benefits of fiber: hydrates stool and dilutes toxins, absorbs fat-soluble toxins, binds heavy metals, and stimulates the production of short chain fatty acids for the health and repair of the colon. Consequently when we eat fiber-rich plants you also reap the benefits of antioxidants and phytonutrients which play critical roles in phase 1 and 2 of liver detoxification.

There were many common themes throughout the program that spoke to the heart of a sustainable lifestyle approach to eating:

  • Have compassion for yourself. Your relationship to food impacts your food choices, digestion and absorption, and your connection to the planet.
  • Concentrate on a whole-food, plant-based diet with a wide variety of color coming from legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds.
  • What you eat is as important as what your food ate. Look for grass-fed, antibiotic free meats, wild seasonal fish, and stay updated on the Clean 15/Dirty Dozen lists at ewg.org.
  • Use the kitchen as “culinary meditation”. Relax and enjoy cooking.
  • Pay attention to how you eat. The brain and gut are connected as Kathie Swift states, on “a bidirectional highway”. Eating slowly improves digestion which feeds the brain.

I left the conference much more appreciative of fiber and my microbiome. Hopefully, now you are too. Fiber just may be the link to how we evolve as a species.

Author: Marti Wolfson