Fibre might seem like, ahem, a pretty dry subject – but the effect of fibre on your overall health is NOT to be underestimated. And in fact, many people don’t even know what fibre actually is!
What makes fibre unique is that it is NOT a nutrient in the traditional sense. Nutrients are supposed to be digested and absorbed into the human body and play a role in some sort of cell building or metabolic process. And while the basic building blocks of fibre are carbohydrates, the molecular structure of dietary fibres prevent them from being digested and absorbed. So in essence, fibre is confined to the gut…and therein lies the foundations for its benefits.
By its very nature, fibre is found in plant foods. Fibre is part of the cellular structure of plants – and their are two main types that you have probably heard of: soluble and insoluble fibres.
Soluble and Insoluble Fibre
Many foods contain both types of fibre, but soluble fibre is less abundant. Soluble fibre binds water, forming a gel-like consistency that thickens your food to help it pass through your digestive system. It’s broken down by the gut flora (aka the ‘good’ bacteria) in your large intestine and helps regulate your blood sugar and cholesterol. You can find it in oats, apples, beans, and seaweed.
Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, doesn’t dissolve in water and makes up the structural parts of plants. It adds bulk to stool and balances acidity in the intestines. It promotes regular bowel movements, prevents constipation and helps to speed up the time it takes to remove waste from the colon. You can find insoluble fibre in wheat, rye bran, broccoli, celery, beans, lentils, and flax seeds.
How much do you need?
Did you know that the average Canadian consumes about 14 grams of fibre/day (according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation)? It is recommended that you aim for at least 25-38 grams of total dietary fibre everyday…in other words, you’ve got to work to boost your intake. And simply eating fruits and veg isn’t enough: many choices, such as tomatoes and mangos, may have way less fibre than you are expecting. Top picks to ensure a high intake include berries, apples, pears, peas and broccoli. Adding beans into your regular meal rotation is also a sure way to boost fibre intake.
Still need more convincing? Here why you should be loading up your plate with fibre:
1) Fibre regulates your blood sugar.
Soluble fibre is broken down and released more slowly from the stomach, preventing that post-meal spike of sugar in the bloodstream. It’s also why fibre promotes that feeling of fullness. High fibre foods tend to be lower on the glycemic index and can help with preventing chronic disease and inflammation influenced by blood sugar levels, in addition to managing Type 2 diabetes.
2) Fibre keeps your cholesterol levels in check.
Soluble fibre reduces your risk of heart disease by binding to cholesterol and carrying it out in your waste, which lowers cholesterol levels in your blood. Create a heart-healthy diet by adding more high-fibre plant foods to your meals!
3) Fibre feeds a healthy intestinal flora and a stronger gut.
Fibre is fuel for the trillions of bacteria living in your large intestine, which are responsible for keeping you and your gut healthy. In fact, it is this function of dietary fibres that may end up proving to be the most beneficial. You can think of your intestinal flora as another organ – the health of the community supports digestion, immunity and the nervous system. Not bad for cells to small for the human eye to see! In addition, greater consumption of fibre-rich food is associated with a decreased risk of developing colon cancer…which may be linked to that beneficial bacteria of yours.
Need help? Some Tips to Increase Your Fibre Intake
- Eat a variety of plants to get both soluble and insoluble fibre
- Make the switch: choose sprouted grain breads, and flour, cereals, and pastas made from (not with) 100% whole grain flours
- Cook with whole grains such as quinoa, oats, amaranth, barley, couscous, or spelt
- Sprinkle ground flax or nuts over your cereal and salads
- Choose to eat more whole fruits or vegetables instead of juice
- Experiment with different salad recipes! Toss up a variety of fruits and vegetables topped with beans and nuts
- Snack on fruits and veggies throughout the day (make sure to keep the skin on)
- Use beans and legumes to whip up your own homemade dip or add to soups and casseroles
Where to Get That Magical Fibre
List of Soluble Fibre Sources: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Fibre/Facts-on-Soluble-Fibre.aspx
All Fibre Sources: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile68h.stm