I don’t like the idea of ranking nutrients and saying a person needs this or that. I will, however, say this: everyone should be focusing on fiber.
Since fiber isn’t a nutrient per se, it works.
Fiber is associated with a host of health benefits. It can reduce LDL cholesterol to result in lower blood pressure and a healthier heart. But its real claim to fame may be its effect on gut health.
A healthy gut needs fiber to function efficiently. Not only does fiber add bulk and draw water to the stool to help keep things moving along to avoid constipation, but it also helps healthy gut bacteria proliferate.
Gut bacteria can play a major role in overall health. It’s associated with mood, heart health, digestion, immunity, and more. Called your microbiota, this microbial population has been widely recognized in recent years as being instrumental in overall health.
And fiber is what feeds it.
When you eat fibrous foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes, beans, and whole grains, you don’t digest the fiber. All of the other nutrients are digested and absorbed into your bloodstream, organs, and tissue.
The fiber, however, provides a feast for your microbiome.
The nutrition that fiber offers for this population allows healthy gut bacteria to grow and populate. I know that bacterial strains—called probiotics—get a lot of love, but they simply can’t do anything if they aren’t fed.
Further, unhealthy gut microbes don’t want to fuel themselves with fiber. They exist on sugars and other relatively non-nutritive substances. So if you cut down on processed food and eat more fiber, you’re kind of administering some population control.
Getting 25-35 grams of fiber every day gives you the best shot at a healthy heart and gut. If you’re currently getting far less than that, ease into it and work your way up.
Going hard on fiber right off the bat can lead to a little bit of bloating and gas, so give yourself a couple of weeks to reach the threshold. But once you do, you’re likely to notice some positive changes.