Eating a variety of foods rich in dietary fiber – whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fresh fruits – is one of the best things you can do to protect your health from disease.

Unlike other components of food, dietary fiber isn’t broken down or absorbed. It passes through your body either as soluble fiber that dissolves in water and lowers cholesterol and glucose levels or insoluble fiber that helps food move through your digestive system.

Scientists at the University of California Davis (UC Davis) discovered another reason to eat more fiber based on how it interacts with your gut bacteria in ways that may protect your body from harmful pathogens, according to a recent study published in Science.

Here’s how it works: As the microbes in your gut process soluble fiber, short-chain fatty acids (better known as butyrate) are created which does a lot of good behind the scenes.

Ideally, butyrate signals to the cells lining the walls of your large bowel to increase its consumption of oxygen, protecting your gut from more harmful bacteria, like E. coli and Salmonella. (Butyrate production keeps gut inflammation in check too.)

Scientists better appreciated the work butyrate does when cells were exposed to antibiotics – definitely no friend to your gut. Antibiotics deplete your body’s reserves of butyrate, which reduces the signaling between butyrate and the gut wall.

This disruption in your gut’s natural signaling allows more oxygen to hang around, letting E. coli and other nasty bugs multiply. In time, all of these behind-the-scenes problems could come to the forefront and make you sick.

“Our research suggests that one of the best approaches to maintaining gut health might be to feed the beneficial microbes in our intestines dietary fiber, their preferred source of sustenance,” said Dr. Andreas Bäumler, professor of medical microbiology and immunology at UC Davis and senior author of the study, according to a press release.

Unfortunately, too many Americans are addicted to Western diets, full of fatty foods with little nutritional value, so they tend to avoid fiber-rich foods at the expense of their health.

That said, it doesn’t take a lot of fiber to make a big difference in your health. Merely increasing your intake of dietary fiber by just 1 ounce (about 30 grams) is enough to help you lose weight and lower your risk of cardiovascular problems, not to mention relieve constipation.

Boosting the amount of fiber you eat every day isn’t hard, especially if you like lentils, beans, artichokes, apples, pears, strawberries and whole grains.

Along with eating more fiber, taking a daily probiotic, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria and a prebiotic (FOS), may do even more good as both work in sync by triggering the fermentation process that feeds your gut safely and naturally.