Are you getting enough fiber? 

To understand fiber, lets first define it. Fiber is that part of a plant that you eat which is good for you, and fibre helps move food quickly though your gut. It is mainly carbohydrate. Its main job is to keep the digestive system healthy. Other common terms used to describe fibre is ‘roughage’ or ‘bulk.’ Fibre also helps in keeping blood sugars and cholesterol steady. A high-fibre is known to help with cancers (especially of the gut), diabetesheart disease, irritable bowel disease, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and many brain inflammation issues.

How much do you need for 1000 calorie diet in a day?

  1. Adult Women – 25 grams a day
  2. Adult Men – 38 grams a day.
  3. Children 4 to 8 years – 18 grams a day.
  4. Girls 14 to18 years – 20 grams a day.
  5. Boys 9 to 14 years and 15 to18 years – Between 24 – 28 grams a day.

Know the 2 types of fiber

There are two types of fibre and we need both types in our diet. The two types of fiber are – 

  1. Insoluble fiber: Made from the cell walls of plants, its job is to provide ‘bulk’ to stools and prevent you from getting constipated. Sources are: wholegrains, bran (wheat or rice bran), skins of all fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, cauliflower, beans, potatoes.
  2. Soluble fiber: Found mainly in plant cells. Its main purpose is to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL). Sources are: fruits, (fruit, apricots, figs, apples, guavas) vegetables (carrots, all vegetables are good actually), oat bran, barley, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, beans (especially black, kidney), soy, avocados, sweet potatoes.

Fiber and your gut bacteria

To prevent the good microbiota from dying and preserving the balance between the good and the bad, we must understand the crucial food elements at play before we move on to a discussion of how we would go about orchestrating a master detox diet. One of the largest influencers of our microbiome is diet. 

Part of the imbalance in the inner ecosystems has happened because of the decline of fibre in our diets, specifically from plants. This includes whole grain, vegetables and legumes. The advent of modern food methods, influx of processed and refined foods, and the culture of eating out is now catching up with us. In India, we are shifting from a country that ate local and seasonal foods at home to one that is obsessed with Western lifestyle. Sadly enough, this has affected our gut diversity and caused the microbiota growth to decline. To add to this, the trigger foods (such as sugar, dairy, white processed flour [maida] and bad-quality fats [oils]) are a part of our day-to-day lives, feeding the bad gut microbes.

Justin and Erica Sonnenburg coined a term ‘Microbiota Accessible Fiber’ MACs

MACs get to your large intestine and feed your microbiota. Plant-based foods have over a thousand different MACs. Oligosaccharides consist of three to nine monosaccharides and are found in beans, whole grains, vegetables and fruits. These are fermented in the large intestine and release SCFAs The rapid fermentation of MACs creates sort of an energy pool for these microbes. Here is where SCFAs are made. They provide energy to us when the fermentation takes place in our guts from the fibre we consume. As we absorb SCFAs into our tissue, our bodies remove the calories from the indigested fibre. In the end, we must boost SCFAs by eating foods rich in MACs. People consuming MACs and generating SCFAs actually lose weight, not to mention the reversal of leaky gut and inflammation. Short Chain Fatty Acids-these are essential for a lot of functions like generating energy, extracting calories from your food, regulate pH of the gut, nourishes butyrate-producing bacteria, prevent leaky gut), combats inflammation, helps protect against cancer, regulates immune system. 

Your gut microbes only respond to what you eat. You need to seriously think about what you are feeding it. How do you increase the MAC quotient of your meals? I mentioned earlier that the food that remains undigested moves after the first bulk of what you have eaten has been worked upon in the small intestine. The undigested foods move to the large intestine, which is actually where the microbes reside (larger colonies of them). A large portion of this undigested food is fiber. At this stage, the microbiota are looking out for MACs, and waiting for their food. Each species has a taste for different foods: some like bananas, while others like onions. Whatever we eat will help the microbiota multiply and, therefore, create balance for us.

What are the types of foods to add for a high-fibre fuelled diet?

Add Microbiota Accessible Carbohydrates (MACs)

In addition to whole grain, the diet should centre around vegetables, legumes and fruit, and in smaller quantities, chicken, meat and fish (if you are non- vegetarian). MACs, as discussed earlier, are carbohydrates found in plant-based sources of foods. The more MACs you consume, the more fermentation will take place in your gut, and the more SCFAs you will produce.

MAC 1: Whole Grain

We Indians have not yet understood the power of this food group. As a health practitioner and an opinion leader in this field, I take my spoken and written word very seriously. So be rest assured that I don’t recommend whole grains lightly. 

As the Sonnenburg’s explain, anything that is milled has less fibre or MAC content than something that is ‘whole’. The same was espoused by my teachers at the Kushi Institute. For example, removing the bran and germ from wheat (wheat is made of endosperm, i.e., germ + bran), as opposed to keeping it whole, reduces its MAC fibre. In my opinion, brown rice and whole millets are the only whole grains that have a high MAC content. In the Indian markets, that leaves us with brown rice and whole millets (i.e., barley [jav], sorghum [jowar], finger millet [nachni or ragi] in its ‘whole’ form, not milled into a flour). Avoid wheat and barley at the moment due to their gluten content. We can reintroduce these later, in the next phase. It always helps to dry roast millets first before boiling. For one, they cook better, and two, roasting removes the allergens and other irritants, if any. So try to minimize grain flours and eat the grain in its whole form. I say this for people who may find it difficult to have a whole grain for two meals. If you’d like to eat chapattis, then go ahead and add bran to the flour (oat bran or wheat bran).

MAC 2: Vegetables

Focus on all vegetables, especially on dark leafy greens, squash, sweet potato, peas (not if you don’t digest them well), Brussels sprout (Indians don’t use this vegetable a lot, but it’s available), lotus stem (kamal ki kakdi or bhen) and avocados. In dark leafy greens, go beyond spinach, amaranth (cholai) and fenugreek (methi). One leafy green to explore which has more fibre than any of these is Malabar spinach, also called pui shaak (Bengali), mayalu (Marathi) or valchi bhaji (Konkani). These vegetables make my microbiota happy. Also important are brassica vegetables, which have been studied for their high concentrations of glucosinolates, a natural compound in pungent plants known to be anti-carcinogenic. These include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, summer squash (yellow, looks like zucchini), regular squash (lal kaddu or bhopla), turnips (shalgam) and kohlrabi (ganth gobi or nool kol, better known as kadam in Kashmir [known for kadam saag]).

MAC 3: Fruits

All fruits are great, but stressing on bananas is good as they are prebiotic and the microbiota loves them. For those who tend to have acidity and an excess build-up of mucous (coming out of any orifice of the body), don’t include bananas, apples, berries (blue/black), pears and oranges. You will see in the diet section that I have used a lot of combinations in juices and smoothies.

MAC 4: Legumes

Legumes/beans have got a bad rap for causing indigestion, and you are probably saying the same thing if you do have a gut issue going on. By these I mean kidney beans (red/ black), white beans (lobhia/raungi), green mung and black beans (kaala masur). However, they are loaded with good fibre that your microbiota loves. 

To make them more digestible, as I mentioned earlier, soak them for 8 hours.

MAC 5: Nuts and Seeds

I would include all of them, specifically walnuts, almonds, pistachios, Brazil nuts, cashews, and sunflower, pumpkin and flaxseeds, and minimize peanuts.

Good Gut Fiber Bite

Ways to Sneak Fibre into Your Diet

  1. Add bran to your smoothies.
  2. Think fibre when you think of snacks.
  3. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
  4. Change whites to browns, e.g., white rice to brown.
  5. Have a bean salad daily.
  6. Have a shaker handy with a mix of flaxseeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
  7. Sprinkle seeds over dairy-free yogurt. 

Part of the blog are taken from excerpts from Shonali Sabherwal’s book ‘The Detox Diet’

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