Why do you need fibre?
Fibre is one of the most vital tools to aid digestion, prevent constipation and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even cancers of the bowel.
Diets high in fibre are sorely lacking in modern, sugary and over-processed diets. The average adult should be consuming at least 30 to 38 grams of fibre in their diets a day but most actually only manage to consume 18 grams.
Every day children aged 2 to 5 years need about 15 grams, 5 to 11-year-olds need 20 grams, and 11 to 16-year-olds need 25 grams. Their current average consumption is 15 grams and less.
What is fibre, and why do you need it
Dietary fibre derived from plant-based whole foods is non-digestible carbohydrates, commonly known as roughage. The fibre is further categorised into soluble or insoluble Fibre or fermentable and non-fermentable Fibre.
For optimal health, it is important to consume a variety of foods that contain soluble, fermentable fibre as this feeds the good gut bacteria, thereby facilitating a prebiotic function.
Prebiotics are non-digestible nutrients, and they serve as an energy source for probiotics, the beneficial gut flora which improves the metabolic activity of the colon. The probiotics are also a vital defence system as it resists the growth of bad bacteria which have the capacity to produce cancerous enzymes.
Good gut bacteria produce nutrients for the body, the most important being short-chain fatty acids that feed the cells in the colon, and this, in turn, leads to a reduction in gut inflammation. This generally improves digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
The main side-effect is that gases are produced and cause winds and stomach discomfort when the good gut bacteria ferment the fibre, but these side-effects disappear once the body adjusts to the increase in fibre consumption, says Healthline.
The benefit of increased fibre intake
There is only a small amount of fibre in refined carbs, such as white flour products with added sugar or with a high oil and salt content. These should be avoided as they aren’t beneficial when it comes to:
- Weight loss: some types of dietary fibre leads to weight loss through the reduction of calorie intake. Soluble high fibre foods bulk up when it absorbs water in the intestine thereby slowing the absorption of nutrients and leaving you feeling full.
- Reducing blood sugar spikes: soluble high fibre foods have a lower glycemic index which causes smaller spikes in blood sugar levels. Diabetics are often encouraged to eat whole plant-based foods that haven’t been stripped of their natural fibre.
- Reduction in cholesterol: studies have shown that the drop in cholesterol levels are small on a soluble high-fibre diet, but the positive aspect is that there are reductions. Any change to a plant-based whole food diet brings benefits, no matter how small it is at the outset.
- Reducing constipation: having a good bowel movement is one of the main reasons for eating high fibre foods such as prunes and whole wheat or multi-grain bread, fruit and veg, which bulk up your stool for a speedy movement through the intestine. The bulking up depends on the type of fibre that you’re adding.
- Reduce the risk of colorectal cancers: as third on the list of leading causes of cancer deaths, many experts believe that introducing a soluble high-fibre diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and pulses may affect your risk of getting colon cancer.
Fibre for a healthier you
If you want a healthier lifestyle, adding fibre-rich foods is a top priority. These are the recommended foods you should consider choosing from to eat daily:
- Two to three servings of leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, kale and lettuce
- Avocados, olive oil, almonds and wall nuts in moderation
- Two to three servings of legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, lentils and pumpkin seeds
- Five servings of whole wheat bread, oats, brown rice, sugar-free granola, barley and quinoa
- Three to four servings of pineapple, grapes, berries, tomato, bananas, apple, pears, oranges and grapefruit
- Unlimited amounts of cauliflower, sweet potato, mushrooms, squash, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cucumber, corn, carrots, celery, bell peppers.
Sometimes just switching to shredded wheat or Weetabix cereal, whole wheat dumpy bread topped with low salt and no sugar tomato baked beans, an orange and some prunes together with at least 11 glasses of water a day will provide at least half of your recommended daily fibre intake.
Fibre might be harder to eat for some.
Because of our modern Western diet of junk food and items that aren’t easily digestible, the instances of reported gastric distress have increased. Fortunately, people have now become more aware that what we eat affects our overall health and that there is a connection between the gut and the brain, explains Affinity Health. Before, discussing anything to do with digestion was taboo and considered impolite. But now, there are dedicated groups, supports groups and holistic healers specifically for the betterment of digestive health practices.
Most commonly known of all the digestive diseases is celiac disease, which started the ‘No Gluten’ craze, which dominated the diet scene of the early 2000s. Before riding, the no gluten wave was dismissed as a trendy, Hollywood way of eating, but recent studies have shown the negative effects of gluten on the small intestine, especially for those who suffer from celiac disease.
Eating gluten triggers an immune response in the body, causing inflammation and damage to the small intestine. It’s estimated that celiac disease affects nearly 1% of the population in the United States, explains Healthline.
In these instances, sticking to fibre from fruit and vegetables is key. Having medical insurance can make it easy to get expert advice from a medical professional.