Does Fiber Help with Inflammation?
Chronic, low-grade inflammation is implicated in so many conditions, from diabetes to arthritis, psoriasis to ulcerative colitis. But how does fiber help with inflammation? In this post, we’ll talk about how fiber-rich plant foods support the gut-immune-microbiome axis to help calm inflammation. Learn more about how much fiber we really need and check out the handy list of anti-inflammatory foods that are rich in fiber.
Anti-inflammatory nutrition is my jam – to me, an anti-inflammatory diet is really about creating a way of eating that helps you feel your best now and lower your risk of chronic disease for years to come.
But I think we can still sometimes get a bit confused about where the real anti-inflammatory power lies – we focus mostly on single foods like turmeric or hemp and forget that dietary patterns do a LOT to help calm inflammation, like eating a high fibre plant-based diet.
What does inflammation mean?
Let’s get ourselves on the same page: Inflammation comes from your immune system and it’s part of a healthy immune response…when it’s short-term. Acute (short-term) inflammation is what helps you recover from a cold, a sprained ankle or a cut on your hand. Chronic inflammation is a bit different – in fact, the pathway of chronic inflammation is completely different from the pathway of acute inflammation. Here, the immune response loses its balance between tolerance and action, typically, because the aggressor is chronic (such as diet, stress or inactivity).
Inflammation is involved in pretty much every chronic disease we are facing today, whether as a root cause, an exacerbating factor or a symptom of the disease itself:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type two diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Autoimmunity such as lupus
What are anti-inflammatory foods?
An anti-inflammatory diet is a way of eating that aims to minimize more pro-inflammatory pressures while increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients. It is:
- Low in added sugars and refined flours, and hyper-processed foods in general
- Low in animal products, which are rich in saturated fat and haem iron
- High in whole plant foods, which are high in anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and fibre
- Contains omega 3 fatty acids and minimizes concentrated sources of omega 6 fatty acids
You can consider pretty much all whole plant foods to be anti-inflammatory, including:
- Intact whole grains like wheat berries and rolled oats
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts, seeds and legumes like chickpeas, cashews and ground flax
Anti-inflammatory nutrition isn’t a weight loss diet, or something that must be followed rigidly. If you are generally healthy, simply eating more plants will help you take a preventative approach to minimizing the role of chronic inflammation in your health. A general anti-inflammatory diet leaves room for occasional treats – it is the day to day pattern of how you eat that matters most, rather than a single meal.
For those who are unwell and looking to heal, adopting a stronger anti-inflammatory approach might help accelerate healing but the goal is always to return to as unrestricted a diet as possible.
How does fibre help with inflammation?
Originally, anti-inflammatory nutrition focused on three main ideas:
- Keeping blood sugars stabilized to avoid spiking the inflammatory response
- Choosing anti-inflammatory fats such as olive oil, avocados and omega 3-rich seeds over more pro-inflammatory choices such as vegetable oils and saturated fats
- Eating more anti-inflammatory phytochemicals from whole plant foods
But then the research started to accumulate on the role that your digestive tract – and the gut bacteria within it – plays in the inflammatory response. Roughly 70% of your immune function resides within and alongside your digestive tract. So the health of your gut is critical to avoid inciting an immune response, as is fostering the right mix of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
How do we do just that? Fibre! Fibre helps digestion in multiple ways:
- Encourages timely elimination
- Binds potentially harmful substances for excretion
- Helps sweep the gut clear and encourages turnover of the gut cells
- Feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut, which support the gut by keeping the gut barrier strong (avoiding leaky gut), fighting off more pro-inflammatory bacteria and communicating with the immune system directly to help lower inflammatory responses.
Yep, fibre does all of that…and it’s not even technically a nutrient. Because we don’t digest and absorb fibre, it is actually classified as an anti-nutrient…but we are far healthier with it than without it!
How much fibre do I need?
We don’t do a great job of eating enough fibre…typically an average of 16-18 grams a day when we need much more. Women need 25 grams of fibre daily and men need 38 grams. It’s okay to get a bit more but we really don’t want to be getting less. Getting adequate fibre will also help keep you full and satisfied, support more stable blood sugars and energy levels and prevent you from getting constipated.
8 of the best anti-inflammatory foods that are rich in fibre:
Many of us assume that all plant foods have a lot of fibre – but it isn’t true. In order to ensure that you are always hitting your fibre targets, it’s worthwhile to try to get 2-3 high fibre anti-inflammatory foods a day in addition to your usual healthy diet.
- Beans and Lentils: beans, peas and lentils contain 12-20 grams of fibre per cup. If you are new to beans, start with a much smaller serving and work your way up to a ¾ cup serving when you’re ready. Getting that much fibre at one sitting can do a number on the uninitiated gut – like causing a lot of bloating.
- Raspberries and blackberries: 1 cup contains 8 grams of fibre
- Pears + Apples: Pears typically have about 5g of fibre per medium fruit and apples about 4g, including prebiotic FODMAPs
- Wheat berries: If you tolerate gluten, wheat berries are a whole grain powerhouse that contain about 8g of fibre per cooked cup
- Chia seeds + psyllium: both have about 3g fibre per tablespoon, but the soluble kind that is soothing to the gut. And chia seeds contain omega 3s!
- Sprouted Grain Breads: 2 slices of 100% sprouted grain breads typically contain 10 grams of fibre. It’s a big difference from usual whole wheat bread.
- Barley + Oatmeal: both have about 4g of fibre per cooked cup…which doesn’t seem like much except that they contain soluble beta-glucan fibre which is particularly soothing to the gut and fermentable by gut bacteria.
- Brussel Sprouts + broccoli: 1 cup of cooked Brussels sprouts – one of my fave veg! – has 6 grams of fibre, while 1 cup of broccoli contains 4 grams.
I hope this has inspired you to get more fibre-ful plants on your plate! You might have noticed that I spell fibre two ways here: fibre is how we do it in Canada…but I have added the US spelling fiber a few times so the Google machine can recognize the post better and help my US friends find it.