By Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., F.A.N.D., director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, Herbalife Nutrition
July 6, 2017
The foods you eat and the lifestyle you lead have a tremendous influence on the health of your digestive system. Staying active, staying hydrated and making sure that your diet contains an abundance of plant foods are all key to digestive health. Let’s take a closer look at two plant components – fiber and aloe – and how they help support the health of your digestive system.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is the structural portion of a plant, so it’s found in good-for-you foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Most people think of fiber as the substance that helps to keep the digestive process moving. And certain fibers do just that. But not all fibers function exactly the same way, which is why we often talk about two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble fiber – both of which contribute to digestive health, but in different ways.
Two Types of Fiber
Soluble fiber– found in foods like apples, oranges, carrots, potatoes, oats, barley and beans – thickens and swells up when it comes in contact with liquid. So, when you eat these foods, they swell up in the watery environment of your stomach and help to fill you up. Soluble fibers also slow the absorption of sugar from the blood stream, so they can also help to keep blood sugar levels more even throughout the day in normal, healthy people. If that weren’t enough, soluble fiber also functions as a prebiotic – which means that it encourages the growth of the good bacteria (the probiotics) in your digestive tract – by acting as a food source.
Insoluble fiber – sometimes called “roughage” also supports the health of your digestive tract, but in a different way. Insoluble fibers don’t dissolve in water – instead, they simply absorb water in the lower tract, which makes the fiber more bulky. This type of fiber – which is found in most vegetables and whole grains – speeds the passage of waste through your digestive system, so it helps to keep you regular.
How to Get More Fiber in the Diet
Adults should be eating in the neighborhood of 30 grams of fiber a day, but the average intake among adults in the U.S. is only about a third of that. Our busy lifestyles contribute to the problem. When we’re eating on the go, we’re less likely to find fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are more typically found at home.
Since your body needs both types of fiber, it’s best to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Aim to have a fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack, toss some beans into a soup or salad, and choose whole grains over refined “white” breads, cereals, rice and pasta. Not only will you get both types of fiber, you’ll also benefit from the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that these healthy foods contain.
Aloe Also Promotes Digestive Health
Aloe is also popularly promoted as a tonic for the digestive system, since it helps to support nutrient absorption and overall digestive health. As foods pass through the digestive system, nutrients and water are absorbed in the intestines so the body can utilize them, while waste is passed through.
When designed for oral use, aloe is available in several forms including aloe vera juice, liquid concentrate, or as a dried aloe extract designed to be mixed with beverages such as water and tea. Some forms of aloe also have a light, refreshing flavor, which encourages you to take in more fluids. In that way, aloe can do double duty for your digestive system – you get the digestive support and you might be better hydrated, too.