You may think fibre a dull, overrated topic. Personally I get quite excited by fibre and what it is capable of. I also believe most of us do not get enough. So let me slowly pique your interest before I share with you how to easily get it into your day.
What is fibre?
Generally speaking, dietary fibre (DF) is the edible parts of plants or carbohydrates that resist digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Some of this fibre goes on to be fermented (broken down) by bacteria in the large intestine.
The health promoting benefits of fibre are due to the following:
makes poop thicker, stickier and adds bulk which moves it quickly through the colon for removal;
changes the way we absorb nutrients and decreases the amount of energy we metabolise;
produces short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA are essential for optimal health;
has a role in the production of gut hormones.
The most recognised benefits of fibre are:
Cancer protective - DF protects against cancer in a few ways:
- it’s fermented in the large intestine to produce short SCFA which are cancer protective;
- makes poop thick, sticky and bulky, which means cancer causing substances have less contact with cells;
- increases antioxidant levels, which protect cells from damage;
- improves estrogen removal in poop. Elevated estrogen can lead to changes and chronic disease in tissues.
Heart protective - risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. DF protects the heart in the following ways:
- regulates energy intake which maintains healthy weight and enhances weight loss;
- regulates blood sugar levels and decreases energy uptake which lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes;
- decreases plaque formation in the arteries;
- decreases C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker that is often predictive of heart disease;
- obesity is a risk factor for heart disease which means the reasons below apply.
Obesity prevention and hunger - DF prevents obesity and reduces hunger in the following ways:
- when soluble fibre is fermented in the large intestine it produces gut hormones that reduce hunger;
- decreases energy digestibility and uptake;
- as DF increases in the diet, refined carbohydrate intake often decreases. Refined carbohydrates mess with blood sugar balance and appetite. This leads to overconsumption and weight gain.
Type 2 diabetes - DF prevents and supports diabetes by:
- lowering blood sugar and insulin after food consumption;
- slows carbohydrate breakdown and sugar absorption by adding thickness to the stomach contents.
- This slows stomach emptying and prevents blood sugar spikes;
- produces SCFA which increase insulin sensitivity. This means the body is more effective at using insulin and blood sugar levels are controlled;
- high vegetable intake has been shown to lower the incidence of Type 2 diabetes by 80%.
What excites me most about fibre
DF feed and fertilize our gut bacteria, produce SCFA, prevent leaky gut, are essential for optimal digestion and a healthy microbiome (gut flora).
A Healthy microbiome:
- prevents obesity;
- decreases hunger;
- assists weight loss;
- promotes a healthy heart;
- protects against colon cancer;
- is anti-inflammatory and decreases symptoms of crohn's, ulcerative colitis and IBS;
- improves mood, anxiety and depression.
Where can you find it?
There are two forms
- Soluble fibre (SF) - is found in some vegetables, fruit, chia seeds, legumes, nuts, oatmeal and psyllium. Soluble fibre attracts water, swells and forms a gel. It bypasses digestion in the small intestine and is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. The bacteria in our gut ferment SF into SCFA. Soluble fibre can slow down the digestion of food.
- Insoluble fibre (IF) - is found in whole grains, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery, carrots and fruit skins. They are not water soluble and do not form gels. Insoluble fibre adds roughage which bulks poop and helps move it through the colon quickly.
How much should you have daily?
Make plant based fibre your go-to sources, such as vegetables, fruit (two medium pieces max daily), nuts and seeds. I like to aim for three cups of raw vegetables per meal. Sounds like a lot but when cooked it shrinks.
Don’t forget water - make sure you drink at least 1.5 litres of water (activity dependant) daily to support fibre in its role of removing waste.
My favourite fibre sources are:
- Fruits - apples, kiwifruit, pears, berries, cherries, green banana, avocado, lemon;
- Vegetables - broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, sweet potato, zucchini, carrots, asparagus, artichoke, onion, garlic, leek;
- Nuts and seeds - almonds, pecan and pistachio;
- Superfoods - chia seeds, ground flax seeds, cacao, green banana flour, coconut flour, 180 Nutrition superfood vegan fibre blend which contains pea protein, nuts, seeds, coconut flour, chia, psyllium and cocoa;
- Legumes - on the odd occasion I have cannellini or black beans. These contain resistant starch fibre which feed friendly bacteria in the gut. Legumes contain “anti-nutrients” which interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals and many people do not tolerate them well. Legumes must be prepared well.
Which fibre do I avoid?
- Bran - Bran is the outermost layer of a cereal grain and contains “anti-nutrients”.
- Grains - such as wheat or barley contain “anti-nutrients” and are often inflammatory and damaging to the gut lining (leaky gut). Inflammation and leaky gut lead to many digestive and immune related problems.
How do I get fibre in my day?
In a smoothie I will add:
Fruit such as berries, pear, kiwi fruit, green banana, apple or avocado;
Vegetables such as spinach, cucumber or celery;
Superfoods such as green banana flour, cacao and 180 Nutrition vegan superfood protein blend;
Healthy fats which contain fibre such as avocado or creamed coconut.
Vegetables such as shredded or sautéed cabbage, carrot, spinach, onion, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower with a protein source and healthy fats;
Nuts, seeds or avocado which also contain fibre.
Often looks like lunch or may be a slow cooked protein with:
Vegetables, baked or sauteed, such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onion, sweet potato, pumpkin, zucchini;
Roasted nuts, seeds or tahini.
On special occasions I will have a healthy dessert such as raw salted caramel cheesecake which generally contains nuts, seeds, cacao and coconut.
By now I hope that fibre has gained your respect, that you no longer overlook its importance and that you start filling your day with loads of quality sources so that your health can flourish as a result.