Fiber, Microbes, and the Gut Clock

Fiber. My favorite F-word.

Plant foods contain fiber, and are the only source of fiber in the diet. Among its
many benefits to us, like increasing feelings of satiety after eating, improving bowel regularity, and aiding in blood sugar control, fiber is THE food for the helpful microbes in our digestive system.

Our digestive system is one of the only access points for the external to come into contact with our internal. Gut microbes, which number in the tens of trillions, are the guardians. Fiber is their sustenance. Let’s keep ’em happy. The collaboration between us and our microbes serves to:

  • Lower the pH of the colon so harmful species cannot thrive, protecting us from disease,
  • Protect the integrity of our colon, so that invaders cannot pass into our bloodstream,
  • Reduce inflammation, directly in the gut as well as in the brain and central nervous system,
  • Enhance nutrient absorption, so we get more out of our food,
  • And strengthen our immune system overall.

Without eating a diet high in fiber, the diversity of our gut microbes in the body dwindles. And a diet high in processed foods, low quality fats and oils, and animal products also allows less helpful microbes to take over. In the long-term, this can lead to many preventable disorders, such as diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

A healthy high fiber diet, full of natural and minimally-processed whole foods, high quality fats like nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and small sea fish, and colorful vegetables and fruits, on the other hand, prevents and treats numerous conditions.

Emerging research shows that the timing of our meals influences our body clock, or circadian rhythm. The body clock manages our function over the span of 24-hours, taking cues from our environment such as light, darkness, and food, to trigger the release of hormones. These hormones are what make us rise in the morning, feel sleepy at night, cause the sensation of hunger, urge us to go the bathroom, determine our energy and stress levels, and influence our emotional state. Our longevity and disease risk are influenced by the functioning of this body clock.

Working alongside the body clock are peripheral clocks, such as a gut clock. The gut clock is mostly managed by the gut microbes, which float in the digestive system, releasing chemicals which serve as signals that can regulate biological processes. This means that the timing of when we eat is as critical as what we exactly we consume, in order to get our gut microbe synchronized to do its work in maintaining our body’s entire circadian rhythm.

Published by Okay to Eat

Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, MS, RDN, CDN

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