Can dietary fiber fight obesity?

produceby Meghan McGillin, UMass Amherst
undergraduate student,

Scientists and clinicians have been interested in studying dietary fiber’s potential in treating or preventing obesity. Obesity is a big health problem, afflicting 500 million adults worldwide.

Familiar such as whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables.are naturally high in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber gives plant-based foods their structure fiber-rich foods need more chewing to break up the rigid structure of the plant cell wall. Just think about the work that goes into chewing an apple versus eating a piece of cheese. That extra chewing is important! Chewing takes time and makes more saliva. This helps the chewer take up fewer calories over a longer period and feel more full. Simply eating more fiber can help lower weight gain and thus lower the risk of health complications such as type II Diabetes Mellitus and cardiovascular diseases.

But there’s more! Fiber is a vital component of our diet, and has been linked to preventing a range of illnesses and conditions. Unlike sugar and starch, fiber is unique because our own digestive enzymes are unable to break fiber down into simpler sugars. We need the beneficial microbes living in our guts to break up fiber for us. These microbes have the enzymes to digest fibers and when they do they produce nutrients and byproducts that are helpful for our metabolism and immune systems. In fact, scientists have learned that having certain types of microbes reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases.

To fully understand the anti­obesity effects of fiber, it is necessary to examine the role of our resident gut microbiota as a major contributor to our metabolic well-being. The good news is that it appears diet changes can promote a more protective microbiome. Adding more fiber to one’s diet benefits both the person and their microbes.