When I was very small, I remember my mother making me sit for hours until I had finished my bowl of All Bran. In those days, I certainly was not allowed up from the kitchen table until I had eaten all my food. To this day I remember the vile little shards of brown sticks (that I tried to tell myself were Twiglets) finally giving into to the milk to form a pale brown soup. That’s my memory of so called fibre; bran and a few B vitamins thrown in for good measure. Yuk. Yuk. Yuk. Over the last forty years fibre has been thrown in the cheap DVD bin as a subject so boring that it has lost its edge and relevance. However, I have news! As the fashions come and go fibre is back, even bigger than ever. Yep, fibre is the new black.
So what exactly is fibre?
Essentially fibre is a complex carbohydrate that is poorly digested by the human body. However, as it passes through our digestive system it does some serious good work. It’s essential to a well-functioning digestive system and great at getting rid of waste. It contains substances like pectin which is resistant to the action of digestive enzymes.
There are two main types of fibre:
1. Soluble fibre. This type of fibre is soluble in water. When mixed with water it converts to a gel like substance as it swells. The scientific names are pectin, gums and mucilages. Good examples are oats and psyllium husks.
2. Insoluble fibre. This does not dissolve in water. It passes through our GI tract pretty much as it started. Scientific names include cellulose. Most insoluble fibres come from whole grain wheat (as it contains the bran).
The current intake of fibre is just under 20g per day but the daily recommended amount has been increased to 30g advised by the The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. To be blunt we are not meeting our fibre recommendations even by the old readings. What we are achieving is a paltry 12g per daily which is not exactly great. There are many reasons for that; not meeting the adequate amount of fruit and vegetables, consuming refined grains etc. At the moment we get 40% of that measly 12g from cereal and cereal products, 30% from vegetables and 9% from fruit but we need to do better.
What are the potential health benefits of fibre?
- Decrease LDL (so called “bad” cholesterol) – fibre can attach to cholesterol and take it out of the body
- Decrease blood pressure
- Decrease C-Reactive Protein (CRP) a marker for inflammation and predictor of cardiovascular disease
- Decrease glucose absorption rate – because fibre doesn’t give you blood sugar spikes it slows down sugar responses
- Increase satiation ie stops you feeling hungry
- Decrease transit time
- Increase short chain fatty acids
- Helps you feel full – which potentially helps with weight loss
- Helps to bulk up the stool. Soluble fibre can be good for mild to moderate constipation and help with straining and haemorrhoids
- “Feeds” our gut microbiome in a really good way and can help good bacteria thrive longer
Fibre helps bulk up the stool and has a good effect on the microbiota. Fibre stimulates microbial fermentation in the gut which leads to an increase in the bacterial mass and increase in faecal mass. This can lead to a reduction in the risk of colon cancer. Some fibre holds water, forming a gel like consistency which can bind to excess cholesterol lowering overall LDL cholesterol. Additionally, we know that fibre can affect the gut microbiome. Prebiotics including inulin (insoluble fibre) and fructooligosaccharides (FOS) have been shown to stimulate the growth of bifidobacterium. These bacteria have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Are they any down sides to eating too much fibre?
Eating more fibre is beneficial for most people. However, there are certain conditions where it can exacerbate symptoms like Crohns disease where a low fibre diet is often prescribed for some patients, this is also common after bowel surgery. Additionally, a high fibre diet can result in wind in some people. Although humans can’t digest fibre the bacteria in our colon can, to some varying degrees of success but can still leave us feeling farty and windy!
Top Fibre Foods
- Fruit – eg. apples and pears
- Vegetables – eg. avocado and broccoli
- Grains – eg. brown rice, oats and barley
- Nuts and Seeds – eg. almonds and flax seeds
- Beans and Peas – eg. black beans and lentils
Kate’s tips for getting more fibre in your diet
- Picking products that have whole grains close to the start of their ingredients list
- Eating beans, pea or lentils on a daily basis
- Consuming fruits and vegetables with their skins or peels intact
- How you eat foods changes their fibre content, ie whether they are raw, cooked stewed, fried or baked. Look up the best way to eat specific foods.
- Pick unrefined grains over refined.
- Pick whole fruits and vegetables rather than juices.
- Add beans, peas and lentils to soups or salad
- Make dips from chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils and other pulses
- Eat unsalted nuts, seeds as snacks or sprinkle them on salads or yogurts
- Pick brown rice above the white variety.
Although it seems a fairly boring, subject patients of mine have managed to decrease their cholesterol by simple changes like eating two apples and two oatcakes every day. I think because it’s so simple people tend to forget about it but I hope I’ve reminded you how important fibre can be.
If you would like to make an appointment for a consultation with Kate please contact her on 01323 310532/737814 or at email@example.com or katearnoldnutrition.co.uk