High-fiber foods are necessary if you want to maintain digestive health. But, did you know that these foods also keep the brain healthy? A new study out of the University of Illinois showed that dietary fiber helps reduce inflammation in the brain. This may delay cognitive and motor decline due to aging.
Gut Bacteria Linked Reduction in Brain Inflammation
As we age, the brain starts to become chronically inflamed. When in this state, microglia, the brain’s immune cells, produce chemicals that impair memory and other brain functions. Other factors typical of an aging brain, such as degeneration of cells, compound the problem. Hence, it is common for older individuals to experience difficulty remembering and performing certain motor functions.
According to the new study, though, it is possible that eating foods high in dietary fiber may help delay some of this deterioration. One of the reasons is because fiber promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Fiber digestion also stimulates the production of short-chain-fatty-acids, including butyrate.
Rodney Johnson, professor and head of the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I and author of the study, made the following statement regarding the chemical butyrate:
Butyrate is of interest because it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties on microglia and improve memory in mice when administered pharmacologically.
Dietary Fiber and Butyrate Production
Inflammation can wreak havoc on the brain and nervous system. For example, one well-known disease that doctors associate with brain inflammation is Alzheimer’s.
Initially in the study, scientists administered sodium butyrate to mice in drug form. Secondly, they examined if the mice can reach elevated levels of this chemical (and thus reap the benefits) by eating a diet high in soluble fiber. They founded the study on the fact that gut bacteria convert fiber into butyrate.
In the second part of the study, the researchers fed low- and high-fiber diets to two groups of mice: the young and the old. Then, to understand the effects of the different diets, they tracked butyrate levels in the blood of the mice. In addition, they measured other inflammatory chemicals in the digestive tract.
The study showed that both old and young mice benefited from elevated butyrate levels when consuming a high-fiber diet. In addition, old mice with high fiber intake experienced dramatically-reduced inflammation in the gut. On the other hand, old mice on the low-fiber diet showed the presence of intestinal inflammation. This was not the case in younger mice.
The high-fiber diet elevated butyrate and other SCFAs in the blood both for young and old mice. But only the old mice showed intestinal inflammation on the low-fiber diet.
Dietary fiber can really manipulate the inflammatory environment in the gut.
It is clear that dietary fiber can have a substantial impact on gut health, as well as brain inflammation. Johnson and his team feel confident that the general findings of their study also apply to humans. Johnson states:
What you eat matters. We know that older adults consume 40 percent less dietary fiber than is recommended. Not getting enough fiber could have negative consequences for things you don’t even think about, such as connections to brain health and inflammation in general.
Foods High in Dietary Fiber
Fiber not only affects gut bacteria, inflammation and brain health. In addition, it promotes healthy weight, helps the body regulate blood sugar, and fights constipation.
Below is a list of high-fiber foods that will help you increase your daily fiber intake (and their percentage of fiber per weight).
1. Popcorn (14.5%)
Popcorn is actually a very healthy snack, if you make it yourself from organic corn kernels (instead of using microwave popcorn). You can get 1.2 grams of fiber in one cup of air-popped popcorn.
2. Dark Chocolate (10.9%)
High fiber content is just one of the many benefits of dark chocolate. High quality dark chocolate with high cacao content can offer 3.1 grams of fiber per 1 ounce.
3. Oats (10.6%)
Oats contain soluble fiber called oat beta-glucan. A cup of raw oats contains 16.5 grams.
4. Artichoke (8.6%)
Although artichokes aren’t super popular, they offer a great amount of nutrients such as fiber. One artichoke has about 10.3 grams.
5. Split Peas (8.3%)
Split peas make a delicious soup, with one cup offering over 16 grams of fiber.
6. Lentils (7.9%)
High both in protein and fiber, lentils are an inexpensive nutritious food. A cup of cooked lentils has about 15.6 grams of fiber.
7. Chickpeas (7.6%)
Another legume, chickpeas are also full of protein and other nutrients. One cup of cooked chickpeas contains 12.5 grams of fiber.
8. Avocado (6.7%)
Avocados are low-sugar and are loaded with healthy fats and offer vitamins C, E and B. In a cup full of avocado, there are 10 grams of fiber.
9. Berries (raspberries at 6.5%, blackberries at 5.3% and blueberries at 2.4%)
Most berries are high in antioxidants and vitamin C, as well as high in fiber. For example, a cup of raspberries has about 8 grams of fiber.
10. Pears (3.1%)
The pear is one of the best fruit sources of nutritional fiber. One medium pear will have around 5 to 6 grams.
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