Dietary fiber promotes a shift in the gut toward different types of beneficial bacteria, according to a University of Illinois study.
And the microbes that live in the gut, scientists now believe, can support a healthy gastrointestinal tract as well as affect our susceptibility to conditions as varied as type 2 diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
As these microbes ferment fiber in the intestine, short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites are produced, resulting in many health benefits for the host.
When we understand what kinds of fiber best nurture these health-promoting bacteria, we should be able to modify imbalances to support and improve gastrointestinal health.
This research suggests that fiber is good for more than laxation, which means helping food move through the intestines.
Unfortunately, people eat only about half of the 30 to 35 grams of daily fiber that is recommended. To achieve these health benefits, consumers should read nutrition labels and choose foods that have high fiber content.
For example, one type of bacteria that thrived as a result of the types of fiber fed in this study is inherently anti-inflammatory, and their growth could be stimulated by using prebiotics, foods that promote the bacteria’s growth, or probiotics, foods that contain the live microorganism.