By Kelley Herring
If you’re one of the tens of millions of people who suffer digestive issues, there’s a good chance fiber is a touchy subject.
You see, we’re often told that “eating more fiber” is the key to good digestive health. We’re told it will make the elimination of yesterday’s meal easier. But the fact is that for many people, most forms of dietary fiber can make digestive issues even WORSE!
And the reason?
As you know, your gut is home to trillions of microbes, including bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms. These microbes perform a myriad of activities. They also use the process of fermentation to transform the “substrates” you feed them (primarily fiber and carbohydrates) into many different substances.
Friendly bacteria are the “peace keepers” – making your belly feel comfortable and quiet, while producing substances that boost health. For example, when healthy bacteria eat certain types of fiber, they produce a gut-healing, cell-protecting, antioxidant substance called butyrate.
In this case, fermentation is beneficial and health-promoting.
However, for many of us with a compromised gut or an imbalance of bad bacteria, fermentation can be the cause of gas, bloating, and discomfort… not to mention constipation, diarrhea and more serious issues. In fact, certain species of bacteria can transform the food you eat into lipopolysaccharides (LPS) – toxic compounds that promote leaky gut, autoimmunity, mood imbalances, “brain fog”, and more!
But there is a type of fiber – organic psyllium husk powder – that can be very helpful to those with digestive issues…
The Ancient Healing Fiber that Soothes Your Gut
If you’ve heard of psyllium husk before, it’s probably related to its ability to (ahem!) “cleanse” the system. In fact, over five million Americans consume supplements that contain psyllium to promote digestive regularity.
But the use of this plant began thousands of years ago in Chinese and Indian medicine.
Psyllium powder is made from the seed husks of a small herbaceous bush, called Plantago ovata. The seeds are very small – with each plant yielding more than 15,000 of them!
These seeds produce a special kind of fiber that attracts moisture like a sponge – forming a slippery, gelatin-like mass that expands in your digestive system. The resulting gel is known as mucilage – and not only does its very mass help to satisfy your appetite, the slippery texture really “keep things moving”.
Oddly enough, the gel-like properties are also why psyllium helps to normalize a too-loose bowel.
And research published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society and elsewhere has found that viscous fibers like psyllium are resistant to digestion and poorly fermentable.
That means it does not encourage the rapid growth of bacteria – good or bad – in your microbiome that other forms of fiber can. The result: it doesn’t cause the bloating, cramps or discomfort that many other fibers do.
But the “sponge-like” absorption properties of psyllium are not limited to soaking up water…
Psyllium: The Cholesterol + Glucose “Sponge”
Psyllium gel has a unique ability to bind and engulf substances, including glucose and apparently cholesterol.
In fact, a metabolic ward study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that diabetic men given 5 grams of psyllium daily for 8 weeks experienced the following benefits:
- 9% reduction in total cholesterol
- 13% reduction in LDL cholesterol
- 11% reduction in all-day blood sugar
- 19% decrease in post-meal blood sugar
These are pretty impressive benefits, especially considering the small amount of psyllium given, and that the study was conducted in metabolically- compromised individuals.
While there’s no direct evidence that reducing cholesterol reduces heart disease risk, we know that stabilizing blood sugar is absolutely vital for health and longevity.
A meta-analysis published in The Annals of Internal Medicine looked at HbA1c (a measure of your average blood sugar levels over the past three months). Not surprisingly, the researchers found that every 1% increase in HbA1c ups the risk of all-cause death by 24% for men and 28% for women.
You cannot be truly “well” without healthy blood sugar control.
The digestive and blood sugar benefits alone are worth considering the use of psyllium. But that’s not all. It’s gluey and gelatinous properties also make it a star-worthy stand in for gluten in grain-free baking…
The Gluten Impersonator in Your Baking
You see, “gluten” has been maligned for many years – and for good reason! It really is a detriment to your health. But gluten does have “a good side.”
In fact, many of the properties we love most about bread, pastries and pizza crust are the result of gluten. It is what helps these foods to have a spongy structure and stretch texture that we’ve all come to know and love.
And the great news is that psyllium husk powder can impart baked goods with many of these same properties, helping gluten-free breads to rise and taste like the “real deal” – without the inflammatory action of gluten!
As psyllium bakes in the presence of moisture, it expands and creates a strong fiber network. This provides low-carb, grain-free baked goods with the structure they need to rise, as well as the toothsome texture of traditional bread. Without psyllium, grain-free breads and baked goods often turn out flat, crumbly and dense.
As is the case with many things in baking, psyllium is a “goldilocks” ingredient. Too little won’t produce the rise and texture you desire. Too much and your bread will shoot sky-high… and then fall flat.
If you do choose to use psyllium as a digestive aid – or a baking ingredient – always choose an organic, as it is a crop that often sprayed with pesticides and herbicides.
Kelley Herring is the author of the brand new book Keto Breads – which includes more information you need to know about why it is so important to avoid wheat and grains in your diet, plus how to use healthy replacements for these foods to create all the breads you love… without the gluten, carbs and health-harming effects. Click here to learn more about Keto Breads…
- Marlett JA1, Fischer MH.The active fraction of psyllium seed husk.Proc Nutr Soc. 2003 Feb;62(1):207-9.
- Suares NC1, Ford AC.Systematic review: the effects of fibre in the management of chronic idiopathic constipation.Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011 Apr;33(8):895-901. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2011.04602.x. Epub 2011 Feb 20.
- James W Anderson, Lisa D Allgood, Jan Turner, Peter R Oeltgen, Bruce P Daggy; Effects of psyllium on glucose and serum lipid responses in men with type 2 diabetes and hypercholesterolemia, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 70, Issue 4, 1 October 1999, Pages 466–473, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/70.4.466
- Khaw K, Wareham N, Bingham S, Luben R, Welch A, Day N. Association of Hemoglobin A1c with Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality in Adults: The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer in Norfolk. Ann Intern Med. ;141:413–420. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-141-6-200409210-00006
- Wei ZH, Wang H, Chen XY, Wang BS, Rong ZX, Wang BS, Su BH, Chen HZ (July 2009). “Time- and dose-dependent effect of psyllium on serum lipids in mild-to-moderate hypercholesterolemia: a meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials”. Eur J Clin Nutr. 63 (7): 821–827.
- Gibb RD, McRorie JW, Russell DA, Hasselblad V, D’Alessio DA (December 2015). “Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus”. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 102 (6): 1604–14.