Fiber has been an age-old approach for smooth sailing when it comes to your bowel movements, while probiotics have earned their reputation as modern-day mainstays for good digestive health. But, do fiber and probiotics work together? Are they both necessary for optimal digestion? Do they help (or hurt) one another? Let’s take a closer look at each of these natural health boosters to find out.
The Facts on Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber, often referred to as “roughage,” comes from plants and some plant-based foods. It’s abundant in veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.
Unlike other dietary elements, like proteins, carbs, or fats, fiber isn’t digested and absorbed by your body for cellular fuel and other nutrition. In fact, it makes its way through your digestive system relatively intact. This makes it sound like the dietary fiber you eat doesn’t do much for you, but that’s far from true.
Although fiber is best known for helping to support regularity, certain types have also been shown to have other big benefits—including helping to maintain healthy weight and supporting heart health.
How does fiber work this magic as it travels unscathed through your digestive tract? The answer to that question depends on the type of fiber.
There are seven types of fiber: pectins, lignin, psyllium, beta glucans, inulin and cellulose and resistant starch. Each of these, however, fits into two categories of fiber.
2 Categories of Dietary Fiber: Insoluble and Soluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber is perhaps better known because it’s the type that helps maintain regularity. Insoluble fiber comes primarily from plant cellulose and hemicellulose, which doesn’t dissolve in water. Rather, it attracts water into your stools, increasing their bulk and making them a healthier consistency, which is easier to pass. Better yet, researchers have found that, in addition to supporting normal bowel movements, insoluble fiber can improve the health of your colon.
Good sources of insoluble fiber include beans, cauliflower, nuts, potatoes, wheat bran, and whole-wheat.
Soluble fiber is made mostly of plant pectin and gums and dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. This fibrous gel is known for helping to collect dietary fats, cholesterol, bile salts, and sugars as they make their way through the intestines, ushering them out of your body.
Another great (but little known) thing some soluble fibers can do? Feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut! For example, prebiotic fibers found in garlic help feed bifidobacteria. Another popular example is the inulin and other prebioitc fibers found in chicory root. These prebiotics have been studied for their ability to support overall digestion and a small portion of them feed your body’s beneficial bacteria.
And while these may be but a small fraction of the soluble fibers you consume, providing food for your microbiome’s beneficial bacteria may have a tremendous impact on your entire body. (More on this in a moment.)
You can find abundant soluble fiber in apples, barley, beans, carrots, citrus fruits, oats, peas, and psyllium.
How Much Fiber Do You Need?
Despite the great health benefits of fiber, it’s estimated that Americans get less than half of the recommended levels. What are those recommended amounts? Here’s what the National Academy of Medicine—an independent, nonprofit, research-based organization—recommends for intake of total dietary fiber, including both soluble and insoluble:
|Gender/Age Category||Total Dietary Fiber Per Day|
|Male < or = Age 50||38 grams|
|Male > Age 50||30 grams|
|Female < or = Age 50||25 grams|
|Female > Age 50||21 grams|
The best way to up your fiber intake is to eat a wide variety of fruits, veggies, legumes and grains. Stick to whole foods, rather than canned or processed versions.
Probiotics 101: Good Bacteria that Support Your Gut and More
So, now you have the low down on fiber. What about probiotics? They’ve gotten a lot of buzz lately, and for good reason. They’re often defined as the “good” bacteria in your gut that can support healthy digestion and ease uncomfortable issues like gas, bloating. But their health benefits go far beyond maintaining healthy digestion and comfortable bowels.
It all comes down to the trillions of microorganisms (including probiotics) living in your gut. Collectively, they make up what’s known as your gut microbiome. There are two important jobs that probiotics do within this environment: Maintain the balance and harmony of the microbiome and support the health of the GI lining that act as gatekeepers for things trying to enter your bloodstream.
These bacterial regulators are also capable of synthesizing vitamins, enzymes, and fatty acids, supporting many body systems and functions.
Still, the gut-immunity connection is perhaps the most profound. Abundant research has shown an important link between the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract and immune system function. In fact, experts estimate that 70% of your immune system lies within your gut!
The very big ways that tiny probiotics can support your body make it clear that these microorganisms need your nurturing attention. They take on the daily job of maintaining balance in an environment where so-called “bad” microbes work for dominance in your gut. That’s why it’s so important to keep probiotics strong, capable, and regularly restored. A first step for getting more of these healthy bacteria into your system is eating probiotic-rich foods, like kefir, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and more commonly, yogurt.
Another popular choice is taking probiotic supplements. Needless to say, we’re passionate about this route, since we know eating a diet high in probiotic foods can be a challenge. Supplementing with high-quality probiotics like our Total Care Probiotic, our Probiotic for Women or another choice that’s the best probiotic for you may help the support for your microbiome to thrive.
But there are a lot of probiotic supplements on the market, and it can be hard to know which one to choose. Whether you choose one of our incredible probiotic supplements or another brand, here are three things to look for in a quality probiotic.
3 Things to Look For in a Probiotic Supplement
1. Powerful, Multi-Strain Blend
Select a formula that includes a powerful blend of research-backed bacteria strains, including these top performers: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus.
2. Check the CFUs
Also make sure the formula measures up on its colony forming unit (CFU) count. These numbers are typically in the billions…but more doesn’t always mean better. After all, how do probiotics reach your gut? Many probiotic manufacturers beef up their CFU count in the hope that sheer numbers will be enough to overcome the harsh stomach acids and other elements that threaten probiotics on their journey to your gut.
However, advances in delivery technology, like protective capsules and gels, can help probiotics survive the dangers of your digestive system. With the right “travel insurance” in place (like our MAKTrek 3-D system that protects your probiotics on their way to your gut), 15-20 billion CFU can get the job done.
3. Prebiotic Fiber
Another thing to look for in a quality probiotic is soluble fiber. (We told you there’d be more great news on fiber!) Turns out this type of fiber isn’t just good for your digestion, it’s also an important food source for probiotics and that’s why it’s considered a “prebiotic.” Remember, probiotics are living organisms that need food to survive and prebiotic fiber is their favorite menu item.
Choosing a probiotic formula with prebiotic and postbiotics included as well as making sure you have enough soluble fiber in your daily diet are great ways to help your probiotics not only survive, but thrive.
Fiber & Probiotics Wrap Up—5 Things You Need to Know
- Though very different, fiber and probiotics are both powerful allies for supporting optimal digestion and overall wellness.
- There are two types of fiber—insoluble and soluble—that work in different ways to aid digestion.
- Insoluble fiber is best known for drawing water into your stools, making them softer and easier to pass. It can also help bulk up watery stools and has been found to support colon health.
- Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance as it travels through your digestive system, which picks up cholesterol, dietary fats, sugar and other undesirables, expediting their exit from your body.
- Probiotics are live, “good” microorganisms that reside throughout your body, but primarily in your gut. They compete with other not-so-good microorganisms and try to maintain a balanced environment to support your health in numerous ways, including promoting comfortable digestion and a strong immune system.