Fabulous fibre and why it's so important
Posted on 22nd June 2022 at 07:35
Mention fibre and most people immediately think of those less than appetising, cardboard like, breakfast cereals. You know the ones we mean. As one friend slightly cynically put it, the box probably tastes better – and has more nutritional content – than the cereal inside (!). Moving swiftly on…
Thankfully, there are much simpler and infinitely more appetising ways to add fibre do your diet. It’s something we talk about all the time in this blog – not to mention with Clients – and we trust, by now, everyone knows what it is. Eating a wholefood diet high in plant based foods. In other words, fruit, vegetables and salad in their natural, unprocessed state. Not the ever increasing number of processed versions which, however much you try to convince yourself, are never good alternatives to the real thing. And here’s the important bit, as the mainstay of every meal – and snack, if you succumb (!) – not just your main meal.
So, what is fibre and why is it so important?
Fibre is found in all plants and helps provide structure and support to stems, leaves, fruit and roots. It’s easily seen in the stalk of a cabbage, core of an apple or tough outer skin of many fruits and vegetables. Less so in lettuce or soft fruit, such as raspberries or strawberries, but it’s still there.
It often surprises people to hear that fibre is actually a carbohydrate which makes up the indigestible parts of plants. This means it passes through the Digestive System relatively unchanged – think of it as providing a mini work out for the Digestive System (!) – which is why fibre is linked to digestive health.
Fibre comes in two different forms. Soluble and Insoluble.
Soluble, as the name suggests, dissolves in water to form a jelly like substance. If you’ve ever used pectin in jam making or mixed chia seed in water as a laxative, you’ll have seen soluble fibre in action. It’s also found in many other foods such as oats, beans, peas, apples, pears and carrots.
Insoluble fibre, by contrast, provides “bulk” and helps move food – and then waste – through the Digestive System. It’s found in foods such as potatoes, nuts, cauliflower, cabbages and green beans.
Many foods contain both types of fibre, although in differing amounts.
By helping keep water in the Digestive System – soluble fibre – and providing bulk – insoluble fibre – it’s easy to see why a high fibre diet is linked to regular bowel movements and helping prevent constipation. However, this is only the start.
Fibre provides “food” for the “good” bacteria living in the Digestive System which, in turn, play an important part in the digestion and absorption of our food. Without it, the balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria is disturbed leading to the overgrowth of the “bad” bacteria and Candida. We’ve written about Candida before and the post can be found here.
Fibre also helps slow down the absorption of nutrients, particularly blood sugar, from the Digestive System into the blood stream. This reduces blood sugar spikes following sugar – or carbohydrate – rich meals. For this reason, a high fibre diet can help to manage – and even prevent – Diabetes. At the same time, a high fibre diet helps keep us feeling “full” for longer, both in terms of bulk but also by helping suppress our hunger response. Hence it playing an important part in weight loss and preventing Obesity.
Soluble fibre has also been found to help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Finally, fibre generally, has been linked to a longer lifespan and lower risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer.
The simplest way to increase the amount of fibre in your diet is to base everything you eat – not just your main meal – around non starchy vegetables, salad and fruit. Wherever possible, leave the skin on – obviously washing it first – so you get the full benefit of it.
While fruit juice and smoothies sound like a simple way to improve your diet, the reality is they are just high sugar foods thanks to the fibre being removed as they’re squeezed or processed.
Nuts are great for a snack and contain plenty of fibre as well as nutrients – but not the salted or processed variety!
Finally, while grains such as wheat or oats do contain fibre, much of this is lost during processing along with the nutritional benefits. In addition, bread, pasta, cereals and the like cause a sugar spike shortly after eating. And this is aside from wheat, in particular, being hard to digest and abrasive as it passes through the Digestive System.
We know that people don’t want to hear it but, sadly, the vast majority of wheat based foods provide little in the way of benefit to our bodies or health. And this includes all those breakfast cereals and breads marketed as being “high fibre.” Again, it’s a topic we’ve written about before and the post can be found here.
And, if you need another reason to avoid highly processed wheat based foods, while writing this post we came across some rather disturbing research that found wood pulp fibre was being included in some foods as additional fibre. The names to look for on labels are arboxymethyl cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose and cellulose gum.
As always, the choice is yours.
Photograph by unknown author
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