When your digestive health is impaired, you may experience many uncomfortable symptoms and adverse health effects. One key component of good digestive health is fibre — and most people don’t eat enough!
What is fibre?Fibre is a carbohydrate found in plant food sources such as fruit and vegetables as well as in nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Our bodies cannot digest fibre, and instead, pass it down through the gut into our large intestines where it works its magic to help keep the digestive system healthy. There are two different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Both are equally important for digestive health and preventing diseases.
Why is fibre good for us?Often referred to as natures’ scrubbing brush, fibre helps to clean out bacteria and other nasty build-ups in our intestines — reducing the risk of diseases like colon cancer. Daily fibre intake keeps bowel movements soft and regular, preventing constipation and can be used as a food source for good bacteria in your large intestine. Fibre also has a turbo-charge-like effect on your intestines, making them work faster than normal. This quicker movement of food through the body signals that you’re fuller, helping to aid weight loss. Recent studies show compelling evidence that including high amounts of dietary fibre in the diet is associated with many health benefits such as the decreased risk of heart disease and strokes, as well as type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
How do I know if I’m getting enough fibre?Although fibre is essential to your gut and overall health, most people struggle to get anywhere near the recommended daily amounts (RDA) of 30 grams for adults and 15 grams for children. Six of the most common signs indicating that you’re not getting enough fibre include:
You are constipatedFinding it difficult to do your number 2’s? A low fibre intake is most likely the cause. A low-fibre diet restricts the amount of undigested material passing through your large intestine and stool bulk becomes lessened. Dietary fibre increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it. A bulky stool is easier to pass, decreasing your chance of constipation.
You get hungry soon after eatingThe more fibre you eat, the longer it takes for your body to digest, helping curb appetite. According to new research published in the journal Nature Communications, after you eat fibre your body produces a chemical called acetate which changes the brain cells that control hunger.
High cholesterolWhen your fibre intake is high it lowers the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL) that gets absorbed into the bloodstream.
You have haemorrhoidsA lack of dietary fibre is the most common culprit for haemorrhoids. Eating high-fibre foods can make stools easier to pass and help treat and prevent haemorrhoids.
Feeling tired and sluggishDo you feel tired and sluggish? Chances are you may need more fibre in your diet. A diet low in fibre causes spikes in blood sugar levels and the subsequent crashes that follow resulting in depleted energy levels. On the flip side, a diet rich in fibre helps to balance blood sugar levels because slower digestion means the glucose in food gets digested more slowly, helping to prevent those blood sugar spikes.
Tips to get more fibre into your dietIt’s important to include a variety of high-fibre foods regularly when trying to up your fibre intake to contribute to a healthy balanced diet.
Easy ways to increase your fibre intake include:
- Add nuts or milled seeds to your breakfast cereal or sprinkle over yoghurt
- Add beans or lentils to soups
- Have a serving of fresh fruit and vegetables with every meal
- Try snacking on nuts throughout the day
- Substitute white bread for wholemeal or granary bread
Are all types of fibre the same?There are two types of fibre:
Soluble fibre draws water into the gut which helps soften stools and keep bowel movements regular. Soluble fibre will keep you feeling fuller and reduce constipation and has also been found to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Nuts, flax or chia seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and certain fruits and vegetables are all excellent sources of soluble fibre.
Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool which helps food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. Great sources of insoluble fibre include foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains.