In between Paleo, low sugar and low carb dietary regimes, there is one, basic, important nutrient in our diets that has been forgotten – dietary fibre. Crucial for gut health, digestive health and to keep you regular, not getting enough fibre on a daily basis can leave you feeling bloated, heavy and fatigued. The interesting thing about dietary fibre, is that there are different types of fibres, found in different foods and not getting the right mix of these fibres which can occur when we eliminate different foods from the diet can have significant consequences for our gut health on a daily basis. So if your tummy has not been working as well as you would like it to, it may be worth considering if you are getting enough of the right types of fibre in your diet.
Once broadly referred to as ‘roughage’, dietary fibre can be broken down into three different types; soluble and insoluble fibre and resistant starch. Soluble fibre found in fruits, oats and beans is digested in the stomach and intestines, forming a gel like substance when exposed to water. Soluble fibre helps to move waste through the digestive tract and also helps to lower cholesterol. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and moves undigested through the intestinal tract. Insoluble fibre is found in wheat bran, grain based breads and cereals and in many vegetables and helps to keep you regular. The third type of fibre, resistance starch comes from legumes such as kidney beans and chic peas and other wholegrains and is thought have play a special role in protecting the gut from colon cancer.
There are numerous health benefits in the short and long term to be gained by reaching your fibre targets each day. Keeping regular ensures that wastes are removed from the body as they should be and various digestive tract issues including irritable bowel are better managed. Another area of scientific interest when it comes to fibre and health are recent findings that suggest that the health of the digestive tract is powerfully related to immune function. Such findings would suggest that keeping our gut as healthy as possible with the right type and amount of fibre on a daily basis is a significant aspect of health and wellbeing long term. Finally a by-product of resistant starch digestion, butyrate appears to protect the cells in the large intestine from DNA damage, reducing the risk of bowel cancer.
Ideally we will consume a mix of the different types of fibre to receive the health benefits that each soluble and insoluble fibre offers. While consuming adequate fibre is crucial to prevent constipation, consuming too much of any one fibre type can actually have the reserve effect than it should which is another reason why aiming for balance is the key for sound digestive health.
As a general rule of thumb, consuming 2 piece of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables on a daily basis is an easy way to get at least half of your daily fibre requirements. Secondly choosing grain based cereal, crackers and bread will also give you between 3-5g of fibre per serve. Snacking on beans, nuts and grain based snack bars is another easy way to top up your fibre intake. Finally to ensure that you are also getting a good dose of resistant starch, add some more legumes into your diet – chic peas, kidney beans and baked beans are all good choices. If you find that your tummy is a little sensitive to these heavier sources of fibre, any wholegrains including brown rice, oats and barley are an alternate source of resistant starch.
While dietary fibre is important, it is also important to note that you can have too much-consuming more than 40-50g of fibre a day can leave you prone to gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort so be careful as more is not always better! Naturally for individuals with food intolerances or who suffer from FODMAP intolerance, there are certain high fibre foods that should be avoided to avoid further discomfort.