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The Most Underrated « Nutrient » Of All: Fiber

While everyone seems to be panicking about protein, or talking about carbs being the enemy and fat making you fat, I’m sitting here stunned at the fact that no one is talking about one of the most important nutrients of all: fiber. Everyone seems to agree that fiber is good for you, but I really believe that most people don’t know to what extent fiber is associated with health and protection from disease. Unfortunately, the nutrient most associated with positive health benefits is considered a non-nutrient, since it can’t be broken down by our bodies. This important « non-nutrient » also seems to be the one most likely to be deficient in one’s diet. People assume fiber simply “goes right through you”. Both constipation and diarrhea are improved by increasing fiber, a fact misunderstood by many. Other avoid fiber because of associations with bloating, a decision many will live to regret.

Here, I’ll talk about fiber, what it is, what it does, and why I consider it to be one of the most important of all nutrients, not just for bowel movements, but for overall health. Although considered a non-nutrient, in my opinion, it does nourish the body and should be taken very seriously.

What Is Fiber Anyway?

Firstly, fiber is a complex carbohydrate, meaning it is a long molecule containing carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. What makes this specific carbohydrate special is that humans don’t have the enzymes to break it down. This means that fiber makes it all the way down the digestive track untouched until it reaches your colon. Guess who does have the enzymes to break them down… our gut bacteria! For them, it’s their favorite food and they ferment fiber to produce all sorts of compounds with benefits for human health. These magical compounds do much more than just help bowel movements. We’ll get back to these shortly!

The Different Types

Not all fiber is the same and there are as many types of fiber as there are types of plants. The fiber in your apple is very different from the fiber in your quinoa and both have different properties and different health benefits. Each specific type of fiber fe