What’s the deal with fibre?
The word fibre gets thrown around a lot when talking about healthy food: “Eat more fibre!” “Fibre-rich foods!” But have you ever wondered what it even is?
Fibre is an umbrella term for carbohydrates that your body cannot digest. Not all types of fibre have health benefits, but a lot of them do! Fibre tends to fall under two categories:
1. Insoluble fibre – cannot dissolve in water
2. Soluble fibre – can dissolve in water and be used by the bacteria in our digestive tract (this is a good thing; I’ll explain next!)
Our bodies benefit from both types.
Benefits of Dietary Fibre
1. Fibre feeds good bacteria
We have a lot of bacteria in our digestive system, mostly in the large intestine. Not only do we provide bacteria with a warm place to live, but believe it or not, these bacteria do a lot for us in return!
They influence things like blood sugar control, immunity, and even brain function. These good bacteria also produce nutrients, like short-chain fatty acids, which help feed colon cells and reduce gut inflammation.
In order for these good bacteria to thrive in our bodies, they need to be fed. You may have heard the term “prebiotics” and this is exactly what it refers to. Prebiotics are food for the bacteria, whereas probiotics are the bacteria themselves.
Other nutrients, like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, get absorbed into our bodies by the digestive tract before reaching the large intestine. As a result, they aren’t a useful source of nourishment for the bacteria camping out further down the road. Fibre, on the other hand, cannot be broken down and absorbed by our bodies because we don’t have the enzymes to do so. Therefore, fibre can reach the large intestine and serve as food for bacteria.
Fun(-ish?) fact: These bacteria produce gas when they break down fibre. This is why you may experience flatulence if you start eating a high-fibre diet all of a sudden! The discomfort should go away once your body gets used to it, but it’s a good idea to introduce fibre slowly into your diet. Increasing your water intake along with the fibre should also help minimize side effects.
2. Fibre controls blood sugar
High-fibre foods, particularly those high in soluble fibre, slow down food from leaving the stomach. As a result, when fibre is eaten with faster-digesting carbs, it can control the amount of sugar flowing into the bloodstream. This means that spikes and drops in blood sugar are avoided and you will experience more stable energy levels, while also lowering your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
3. Fibre promotes satiety
As mentioned before, fibre slows down the emptying of food from the stomach. Blood sugar control is one benefit of this, but another is that you feel more satisfied and physically fuller for longer.
4. Fibre protects against disease
Research shows that individuals who eat fibre-rich diets tend to have lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
It is important to note that diets high in fibre tend to involve lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, which all provide plenty of other nourishing vitamins and minerals as well. So it can be difficult to tease out whether it is purely the fibre that's responsible for this effect. BUT because of all the roles that fibre has in our bodies, we can say with some confidence that fibre is in fact protective against disease.
Tips to Getting Adequate Fibre
A lot of health authorities recommend that males eat 38 grams and women eat 25 grams of fibre a day. Here are some tips to ensure you are getting adequate fibre in your diet:
1. Eat veggies with every meal
Vegetables are filled with fibre (along with numerous other wonderful nutrients) and are the best way to get more into your diet. Aim to have half of each meal in the form of veggies!
2. Choose whole grains over refined
Whole grains, as their namesake suggests, have the entire grain intact. Refined or “white” alternatives have the fibre-rich portion stripped. So, when possible, look for the whole-grain label on bread/pasta products.
3. Include fruits in your snacks
Fruits, like vegetables, are also fibre-rich. Including 1-2 fruits in your snack rotation can really help boost fibre intake.
4. Eat more legumes
Legumes are not only a great vegetarian source of protein, they are also chock-full of fibre.
If you are planning on introducing more fibre into your diet, your body may need time to adjust to the changes. Start slow and drink more water!
Stay nourished my friends,