Fibre is one of those nutritional words that gets used a lot but is often not understood fully by the average person. We spoke to Dr Kirsten Gerrand, a medical doctor and registered dietitian, to get the lowdown on this important dietary component.
- Why is it important?
Fibre is essentially food matter that your body can’t digest and absorb, so it goes through your gut relatively unchanged. This may make fibre sound unimportant, but it’s actually an essential dietary component for several reasons.
- Less soluble fibres attract water and increase water holding capacity, meaning they pull water into your colon, keep you more regular, and limit constipation.
- It also helps protects you from cancer! While your body cannot break down fibre, the bacterial zoo residing in your gut can to some degree – leading to the production of short chain fatty acids which are a natural anti-cancer protection. This is especially true for colon cancer, which is the 3rd most common cancer in our population for women.
- More fibre equals more happy probiotics in your gut and better overall physical and mental health (a healthy balance of gut bacteria actually decreases the risk of depression and anxiety).
- Soluble fibre makes a gel in your stomach, slowing the movement of food out of your stomach and through your intestines. This helps you to feel fuller for longer, which can decrease over-eating and prevent weight gain.
- Foods higher in fibre lead to a slow release of sugar into your bloodstream meaning more controlled sugar levels and decreased insulin resistance, protecting you against developing diabetes.
- It lowers cholesterol levels in your body, by binding to things your body needs to absorb cholesterol, leading to a decreased absorption of cholesterol from your food.
- Which foods have fibre in them?
There is fibre we get from natural organic food matter and there is fibre we get which is added to various food contents. It’s always better to get your fibre from whole foods rather than a bottle or a capsule, although there is no harm in supplementing if you’re falling short.
Less soluble fibre includes fibre from wholewheat breads or pasta, the skin of vegetables, bran, and seeds. More soluble fibres are classically found in berries and other fruit such as citrus or apples, as well as oats, legumes, barley and carrots.
To get more fibre in your diet, eat more of the following foods:
- wholegrain bread
Or, you could use a fibre supplement product if you’re working up to an adequate fibre intake slowly, such as this product by Tony Ferguson.
- How much fibre do I need per day?
You need on average 20-35g dietary fibre per day: women ideally need 25g, men ideally 38g, and children as a nice rule of thumb should have their age + 5g of fibre daily.
- How does water consumption relate to fibre?
When you increase your intake of fibre you must always increase your intake of water for it to be effective. On a high fibre diet you need at least two litres of water per day. Remember that one of the most important ways fibre works is by drawing water into your gut. If you don’t have enough water to draw into your gut, increasing the fibre content of your diet can actually make constipation worse.
- But doesn’t fibre leave me bloated?
A lot of people believe fibre doesn’t work for them as it makes them bloated or gives them stomach cramps. But it isn’t fibre in itself that leads to symptoms, rather the amount of fibre consumed. If you move from a very low fibre diet to a very high fibre diet overnight, you will have some unpleasant side effects. The remedy to this is to increase your fibre intake slowly. Change from white bread to wholewheat bread for a few days, then add an extra apple or a couple of berries, and so on. Don’t do it all overnight. This is especially important for fibre supplements – add them into your diet slowly.
All in all, getting enough fibre in our diets can be a huge boost to our overall wellbeing, impacting both our physical and mental health for the better.