Fibre is not the most exciting subject in the world, but I can give you several great reasons to take your fibre intake more seriously.
Before I do, let me quickly explain what fibre actually is. Whilst it is classified as a carbohydrate, fibre isn’t a food component like proteins, other carbohydrates, or fats, which your body breaks down and absorbs, and it isn’t digested by your body. Instead, it passes, relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body.
"Well what on earth is it for?!" I hear you ask.
There are 2 types of fibre:
1. Soluble fibre
Dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels (more about that later). Soluble fibre is found in oats, peas, beans like chickpeas etc, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
2. Insoluble fibre
This type of fibre promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases the bulk of your stool so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Good sources of insoluble fibre include whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans such as chickpeas etc, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes.
And now to the benefits!
There are many health benefits to eating more fibre but I’m going to concentrate on the 4 that effect people mostly commonly:
1. Helps prevent/alleviate constipation and other digestive complaints
Constipation is one of the most common gastro-intestinal complaints, and if this is something you suffer with you don’t need me to tell you it’s no fun! Fibre makes your poop softer and bulkier, both of which help to speed its passage through your body. If you have loose watery stools, fibre can help to solidify the stool because, as well as adding bulk, it also absorbs water.
2. Lowers cholesterol levels
To explain this in detail I would need to write an essay, so put simply, soluble fibre has the ability to bind to excess cholesterol circulating your system and ferry it out before it can clog your arteries.
3. Helps control blood sugar levels and lowers the risk of developing type II diabetes
High fibre foods are generally low on the glycemic index, therefore keeping your blood sugar from spiking. Allowing your blood sugar to spike on a regular basis can lead to type ll diabetes.
4. Helps achieve and maintain a healthy weight
High fibre foods tend to be more filling than low fibre foods, so you’re likely to eat less and stay satisfied for longer. They also tend to take longer to eat, and be less calorie dense.
How much fibre should I be eating?
The National Heart Foundation Guidelines indicated that women should consume 25-30 grams of fibre each day, and men should consume 30g. Studies indicate that many people don’t even get half that amount. Food labels should state the amount of per serving. Apps like My Fitness Pal will also show the amount of fibre in each product. Don’t forget to read the serving size at the top of the label as you may be consuming more or less than the serving size.
Here’s a little challenge for you - why don’t you write down all the food/drinks you consume in a day and then work out how much fibre you’re actually getting? You might be surprised!
So how can I easily get more fibre on a daily basis?
Beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fibre. Add canned beans or lentils (such as chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans) to a salad or soup.
Eat brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice.
Eat more vegetables and when eating fruit, eat in with the skin on (not juiced).
Switch the bread you buy to wholegrain (not wholemeal), preferably brands where you can actually see the grain. Compare brand labels to see which has the most fibre.
Swap regular white pasta for wholemeal pasta.
Add wheat bran or pysllium husks to your cereal (you can find these in your supermarket or health food shop) or check the label of the cereal you’re eating. Ideally you’re looking for 5 or more grams of fibre per serving.
Refined/processed foods don’t contain whole grains so they are lower in fibre. This includes regular white bread and white pasta. Juicing is also processing in a sense. Most of the fibre in fruit like apples is found in the skin so juicing it removes the insoluble fibre and its benefits, like helping with digestions and preventing blood sugar from spiking.
Here are some high fibre meal ideas:
Oats/porridge or overnight soaked chia with nuts, seeds and berries
Eggs with avocado and spinach on wholegrain toast
Grilled chicken salad with quinoa, sweet potato or a small can of bean mix
Vegetable stir fry with lean protein and brown rice
Chopped vegetable sticks (leave the skin on those carrots) and hummus
Wholegrain crackers with avocado
A word of caution
High-fibre foods are good for your health, but adding too much fibre too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fibre in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.
Fibre works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky. If you don't drink much water currently and you increase your fibre intake, please ensure you also increase the amount of water you drink otherwise you may feel constipated!
If you don’t think you’re getting enough fibre in your diet and you’re still unsure how to go about achieving this, get in touch and I’d be happy to help.