"I eat carbs! " That’s not a phrase you will hear much of these days. Carb bashing has become very common of late. Many of us have reduced our carbohydrate intake to lose weight or maybe gone even further and adopted the ketogenic diet where nearly all carbohydrates are banished in favour of fat. If you are following any kind of low carb dietary regime one of the key nutrients that you will be probably missing out on is fibre. The recommended average fibre intake for adults is 30gms per day, but with women only eating 17.2gms and men eating 20.1gms (BNF, 2019) we really need to up our game to reap the health benefits.
What is Fibre?
Dietary fibre also known as ‘roughage’ is a range of plant-based carbohydrates that can’t be broken down by our digestive enzymes and digested. It reaches the colon and here it is either fermented by our gut bacteria or used up to bulk out our stool.
There are two main types of fibre:
Soluble fibre. such as pectin, found in pears, apples, and prebiotics like inulin and fructooligosaccharides (F.O.S.), are easy to digest fibres which dissolve in water and form a gel-like substance, which softens stools.
Insoluble fibre: like cellulose, which is predominantly found in fruits and vegetables (especially the skins) and whole grains, all which adds bulk to stools, supporting bowel movements and keeps our bowels healthy.
What are the Benefits of Fibre?
1. Improved Digestion
Sources of less fermentable fibre can act as bulking (laxative) agents and help prevent constipation. For fibre to have the best effect on preventing constipation, an increase in fibre intake should be accompanied by an increase in water intake to keep the waste products moving down the large intestine. If you are prone to symptoms of bloating and gas or have IBS or SIBO, you may have been told to avoid fibre-rich foods. Low FODMAP diets which restrict a lot of fruits and vegetables which are high in fibre, may provide short term relief, but these diets should not be followed long term as they can really have a negative impact on our gut long term. Getting to the root cause of the problem is key here. With anything you can always have too much of a good thing!
Introducing fibre into your daily diet gradually to allow your gut to get used to it over time, is the key to success here.
2. Healthy Heart
Some fermentable fibres eaten in large amounts may help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Diets rich in fermentable fibre, such as fruits and grains, and in particular oats, have been shown to reduce low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
3. Healthy Weight Management and Effective Weight Loss
The good news is that more fibre does not necessarily mean more carbs. When we think of carbohydrates we tend to think of sugars. As we know sugars are broken down quickly in our bodies leaving us feeling unsatisfied and wanting more! As fibre is part of the starch count of carbohydrates and as your body can’t digest fibre, you are going to be feeling more satisfied and naturally less hungry after a meal and in a much better position to make good food choices. Also, fibrous foods often need chewing, which is another factor that leads to feeling satisfied from eating.
4. Removal of toxins
Both soluble and insoluble fibres play a crucial role in eliminating waste products from our bodies such as harmful toxins, heavy metals, and hormones, and helps stop harmful toxins being recirculated into the bloodstream.
How can you ensure you are getting enough fibre?
Aim for increasing variety and diversity by including as many as possible different colourful plants. Why don’t you try our 50 Foods Challenge HERE
Include prebiotic foods such as Jerusalem artichoke (go easy with these are they can be very windy!), bananas, asparagus, garlic, onions, and chicory, which all rich in FOS and inulin.
Substitute whole grains for refined grains e.g. think brown not white.
Don't through away your leftovers! Cold rice and potatoes are a great source of resistant starch. Resistant starch is very beneficial for our gut bacteria and overall gut health.
Consider adding flaxseed, chia seeds, psyllium husk to porridge, smoothies or juices to boost fibre content.