When was the last time you discussed your bowel movements at a dinner party? It seems fibre intake and subsequent bowel activities are not a popular dinner conversation. Trendy superfoods like acai and goji berries, spirulina, cacao and wheat grass seem to be the focus when discussing superfoods.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love an acai breakfast bowl – spirulina shot and raw cacao coated goji berries do excite me. However, expensive ingredients from exotic locations are omnipresent whilst fibre is often considered passé.
Long before noni juice was purported to aid digestive discomfort and maca was heralded for enhancing endurance, fibre delivered the goods. Did you know that a high fibre intake can enhance your immune system and energy levels and improve mood and reduce disease risk?
So, what is fibre and why do we need it?
Dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, pulses, beans, nuts and the like. Fibre is not digested in the small intestine like other carbohydrates. It passes through the small intestine to the large intestine (colon) where it is broken down and converted to roughage. Long term this reduces the risk of weight gain, heart disease and stroke.
Another benefit of consuming foods high in fibre is the boost in gut health. Approximately 70% of an adult’s immune system is based in the intestinal region. This means that a healthy gut enhances our immune strength. This is beneficial as it may reduce the onset and duration of illness. A diet high in fibre prevents constipation but also reduces the risk of diverticulitis, haemorrhoids and bowel cancer. Poor intestinal health, flatulence, bloating and constipation are also associated with moodiness and reduced energy levels.
Are there different types of fibre?
Dietary fibre is generally broken down to three main groups: Soluble fibre; Insoluble fibre and Resistant Starch. All three are required for healthy intestinal functioning.
Soluble fibre slows the rate of digestion. This contributes to the feeling of fullness and is beneficial in lowering cholesterol and stabilising blood sugar levels. Food sources include fruit and vegetables, oats, bran, nuts and lentils
Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stools allowing them to pass more easily. Foods containing insoluble fibre include wheat, corn and oat bran, nuts, flaxseed (linseed), the skin of fruit and vegetables, beans, legumes and whole-grains.
Resistant Starch aids the health of the intestinal region by fermenting and producing short chain fatty acids. Once absorbed in the bloodstream the acids assist in lowering cholesterol. The short chain fatty acids produced are also associated with enhanced mineral absorption of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. This translates to better bone health.
The short chain fatty acids are also believed to prevent bowel cancer by creating a healthier intestinal environment. Food sources of resistant starch include beans and unripe bananas, hi-maize breads and cooled starches as rice and pasta.
What about GI?
Foods containing more than 10 grams of carbohydrates per serve can be measured via the glycaemic index (GI). Foods that are high in fibre tend to have lower GI values. This is a measure of the speed at which the carbohydrate enters the blood stream. Slow release of the carbohydrate is better as it assists in maintaining a relatively steady state. This is beneficial for cognition, concentration, alertness and mood.
Low GI, fibre containing foods include sweet potato, peas, yoghourt and certain whole-grains. The aim is to eat more high fibre nutritious or core carbohydrate foods and cut out or cut back on treat foods, such as lollies and doughnuts with little fibre and fast release sugars. These cause drastic spikes in blood-sugar levels followed by rapid drops. This may increase the risk of Type II Diabetes.
At this time of year fad diets, detoxes and meal replacement shakes are the norm. An increased consumption of protein occurs at the expense of bread and beans as low carbohydrate gains attention. Breakfast skippers, Coeliac’s and the gluten- avoiders, gym junkies and the Paleo warriors are at stake of consuming insufficient fibre; especially insufficient resistant fibre. The irony is that good quality research led by nutrition experts all advocate the benefit of dietary fibre in weight loss and weight maintenance. Perhaps this is something to think about.
How much fibre do I really need?
The NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) recommend women consume 25 grams and men 30 grams of fibre per day. The research on resistant starch is mounting and many nutrition professors now believe that 20 grams of resistant starch per day is required. It is easy to include more fibre into ones diet by simply adding more whole grains, beans (chick peas, lentils, and edamame), fruit and vegetables.
If your current diet is low to moderate in fibre, increase your fibre in small amounts to avoid intestinal discomfort. Water should also be consumed to facilitate bowel movement. Finally, fibre has exceptional benefits for overall health. However cannot undo the damage of excess toxins and processed foods.
A special note for the self-diagnosed food intolerance sufferers
With love and kindness – if you were bloated and uncomfortable simply removing gluten, wheat, dairy and lactose will not magically improve your health. It is highly likely you were consuming insufficient fibre or the wrong fibre for your lifestyle. I highly urge consulting a trained professional prior to removing entire food groups.