If there’s one thing we know, it's that the health of the gut determines the overall health of the individual. A balanced microbiome can not only prevent disease, but produce nutrients necessary to keep us healthy. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are one such nutrient and are produced when the “good” bacteria in our intestines ferment fiber in the food we consume.
SFCAs are fatty acids with less than six carbon atoms and come in three main types: acetate, propionate, and butyrate. They are critical to overall health as they perform tasks including: absorb minerals, reduce inflammation, aid in metabolism, and are used as a source of energy in the intestines.
In short, consuming foods high in fiber provides the sustenance our gut bacteria need to produce SCFAs; however, the potential health benefits of SCFAs and their relationship with fiber are worth exploring in more depth:
Health Benefits of SCFAs
SCFAs both promote health and help prevent disease. Research connects SCFAs with health benefits such as:
Reduction in symptoms of diarrhea;
Improvement of inflammatory diseases of the bowel such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis;
Lowers risk of colon cancer;
Supports a health weight;
Helps manage diabetes by balancing blood sugar; and
Supports heart health.
Dietary Fiber and SCFAs
Fiber is a component found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and beans. Because fiber cannot be broken down by humans, it is not considered a “nutrient.” And while it can’t be broken down by humans, it can be broken down by the bacteria in our gut.
Eating more fiber will increase the amount of SCFAs in the body and will produce numerous health benefits. Fiber binds to both nutrients in the digestive tract and the waste products produced as a result of digestion and eliminates them through the stool.
Two types of fiber exist–soluble and insoluble–and both should be part of a healthy diet. Specifically, soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps stool move through the digestive system. It can help improve both cholesterol and blood sugar levels and is found in foods such as: apples, carrots, peas, oats, beans, and citrus fruits.
On the contrary, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It adds bulk to the stool, helps promote bowel regularity, and may increase insulin sensitivity. Insoluble fiber is found in: beans, nuts, green beans, whole wheat flour, potatoes, and cauliflower.
Ingesting a sufficient daily amount of fiber is critical to your overall health. Sadly, most Americans only consume 50 percent of the daily recommended intake of fiber. The current recommendation for females is 25 to 32 grams and 30 to 35 grams for males. For those who may be lagging, fiber supplements are available for supplementation although it is unknown if they do more than merely bulk up the stool.
We cannot achieve optimum wellness without producing SCFAs. And we cannot produce SCFAs without consuming fiber in our diets. If you want to prevent disease and be well, it's important to eat whole, high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes. Your microbiome will thank you!