Integrating ancient fiber needs into a modern diet

Although the produce section at the grocery store may look vast, it only represents a fraction of edible, nutritious, and tasty plant foods. It’s estimated there are more than 20,000 species of edible plants, and that we only eat about 20 to 50 of them. As a result, this may be playing a significant role in the rapidly declining health of westerners. Our gut bacteria, or gut microbiome, is a foundation to our health, and healthy gut bacteria depend on a diverse and ample array of vegetables.

Ancient humans harvested wild fruits, nuts, and seeds that varied with the seasons. They also dug up underground roots and stems. Studies of the Hadza people, in Tanzania, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer populations left on the planet, gives us additional insight into the human microbiome and health.

The Hadza have one of the most diverse gut microbiomes on the planet; Americans have the worst. The Hadza gut microbiome diversity is about 40 percent higher than that of the average person in the United States.

Americans consume an average of 15 grams of fiber a day, most of it coming from grains. The American Heart Association recommends eating 25 to 35 grams a day. Some microbiome authors suggest even higher amounts — at least 40 grams of fiber a day.

In contrast, the Hadza consume about 100 to 150 grams of fiber a day, with the average Hadza person eating almost 600 species of plants that vary with the seasons. They suffer almost none of the same diseases that have come to characterize the average American — obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.

To get these optimum health benefits, note that the type of fiber you consume matters; drinking common over the counter psyllium husk fiber to get your daily intake won’t suffice. What gut bacteria need for optimal function are “prebiotic” fibers that produce butyric acid.

Studies show that the butyric acid produced in the small intestine and colon, by the fermentation of these fibers, are what provide the health benefits that the Hadza experience. They change the composition of the gut microbiome in a favorable direction, help strengthen intestinal walls, improve absorption of important nutrients,  produce hormones that control appetite [1], reduce anxiety [2], and help protect you against chronic disease [3].

Prebiotic fibers best feed the healthy bacteria in our guts, thus improving overall health. Good sources of prebiotics include all vegetables but especially:

  • Garlic
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Jicama
  • Dandelion greens
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Fruits
  • Beans

So, top off your salads and mixed array of produce with these foods and mix it up a little!

Not only do prebiotic fibers that produce butyric acid been shown to support healthy bowel regularity, moo, hunger satiety, IBS [4], and those with Crohn’s [5], they have also been shown to lower heart disease risk by binding with “bad” cholesterol to remove from your body [6].

A high-fiber diet also lowers high blood pressure and thus the risk of stroke. 

If you’re not used to eating high amounts of plant foods loaded with fiber, don’t double or triple your intake overnight. Your gut may rebel with constipation, diarrhea, pain, bloating, and gas. It takes your digestive system and gut microbiome some time to adapt and be able to adequately digest large amounts of fiber. You may want to help the body while with a high quality supplement while you gradually increase the amount of prebiotic fiber you eat by about 1 teaspoon a day over several weeks to give your system time to adjust. Slow and steady; progress not perfection. 

Also, you may have noticed legumes, or beans, are especially high in fiber. It’s tempting to make those a staple in your diet as a result, and if they don’t disturb your health then go for it. However, many people cannot tolerate the lectins in legumes — they trigger inflammation or autoimmune flare-ups. For people with SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, they also cause intense digestive issues and inflammatory responses.

In addition, some people need to avoid nightshade vegetables because they trigger inflammation, particularly in relation to arthritis. These include eggplant, potatoes (but not sweet potatoes or yams), peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, hot pepper products (cayenne, Tabasco, etc.), and pepper-based spices. Simply removing nightshades from the diet has brought relief from joint pain for many, especially those with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Lastly, some people have gut or immune disorders that make a high-fiber diet inappropriate until they resolve those. Ask me for more information if eating fiber makes you miserable.

What does a high fiber paleo diet look like?

Most people with chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disorders fare best on a paleo diet that eliminates grains and legumes. As grains and legumes are sources of high fiber, what does a high-fiber paleo diet look like?

The recommended produce consumption is seven to 10 servings a day. That may sound like a lot, but one serving is a half-cup of chopped produce, or a cup of leafy greens. Because sugary foods can be inflammatory, aim for veggies and fruits that are low in sugar and unlikely to destabilize your blood sugar.

Therefore, shoot for at least three to four servings of produce per meal – that’s 1.5 to 2 cups of chopped veggies or 3 cups of leafy greens. With the busy American lifestyle, this may seem daunting at first, so slow it down and put a greens powder (such as Solaris Premium Collection SolFuel Greens in Mocha Boost or Kiwi Berry)  in your water or shake at first while you work up to the 6-8 cups per day over 2-3 months. A little bit of something is better than nothing. Or break that up into five meals if you eat more frequently to stabilize low blood sugar. 

Contact us at Solaris Whole Health to learn about ways to support your gut microbiome. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for you to reach your optimum health goals.