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Digestive Gut Health and Fiber

January 2023

Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Your digestive tract, also known as the gut, is a complex organ. It breaks down the food you eat into nutrients that can be absorbed and carried throughout your body. There is a community of friendly bacteria living within your intestines that help support your gut health. These bacteria break down nutrients, produce compounds that send communications to the rest of the body, and influence your immune system. Research suggests that obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer are all impacted by your gut's health.

The typical American only consumes 16 grams of fiber per day. The Daily Value (DV) or the recommended amount of total dietary fiber is 28 grams per day. This recommendation is based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Your fiber intake may need to be higher or lower, depending on your individual calorie needs. Not all nutrition facts labels list soluble and insoluble fiber separately. So, look for food choices with at least 10% DV dietary fiber or 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Dietary fiber comes from plants, including fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. It's a mostly non-digestible carbohydrate that passes through your digestive system practically unchanged. Dietary fiber is the fuel your gut bacteria need to flourish and has an impact on digestion. Fiber also contributes to a feeling of fullness after a meal and helps to normalize bowel movements. Some studies suggest that high-fiber diets might also help with weight loss and regulating metabolism. Unfortunately, most people don't eat enough fiber in their diets.

There are two different types of fiber important for gut health: soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber have health benefits and support your gut health in different ways. Soluble fiber retains water and slows down digestion and nutrient absorption in your digestive tract. This fiber is found in some fruits and vegetables, such as avocados and oranges, as well as oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas. Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as wheat bran, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. This type of fiber adds bulk to the stool and helps to prevent constipation and diverticular disease.

Some easy ways to keep your gut on track with fiber: