Is it time for a rethink on what we think we know about fibre?
Posted on 2nd June 2021 at 07:01
Food diets and crazes may come and go but some mantras seem to stand the test of time. Having your five a day is a great example – although this is only a starting point and not nearly enough (!) – which leads us neatly on to what we’d like to talk about today. Fibre, also known as “roughage”.
It may not be the most exciting of subjects, but fibre is universally seen as a “good thing”. An important part of a healthy diet. Interestingly, we tend to focus on its ability to fill us up – so stopping us reaching for sugary snacks between meals – as well as slowing down the rate that food is broken down and absorbed. In other words, it helps stop the “sugar high” following sugar laden meals or snacks. At the same time, it’s important for – as it’s rather euphemistically called – “regular movements” and we’ll leave the rest to your imagination…
However, there’s another aspect to fibre we’d like to talk about today, which tends to get overlooked. In fact, we can almost guarantee you won’t have thought of it in these terms before (!).
Instead of thinking about what fibre can do for us – particularly in terms of weight loss or dieting – how about looking at it from the perspective of our Digestive System? And why it’s so important for efficient digestion.
Well, it all comes down to so the called “good bacteria” who make our Digestive System their home and carry out a large part of the digestive process for us. And, if this thought makes you squirm, many apologies (!).
To them – as well as to us – fibre is an essential nutrient. Without it they go hungry, leading straight on to a very obvious and important question. What do they eat instead? Well, without being too graphic, there’s only one option available; the layer of mucus protecting the cells lining the Digestive System.
As you may remember this layer of cells is very thin – only one cell thick to be precise – which is where problems can begin. While this is essential to allow for the easy movement of nutrients into the blood stream, it also means these cells can be easily damaged. The end result is that substances which should remain in the Digestive System pass into the blood stream. From there, they are carried around the body triggering an immune system response leading to inflammation and damage elsewhere. It’s known as Leaky Gut Syndrome and is now being linked to many health problems including Crohn’s Disease, IBS, Auto Immune Diseases and Allergies.
And here’s something else about fibre you may not have thought about before. Not all fibre is the same. Yes, you did read that right!
Soluble fibre is jelly like and, if you’ve ever taken psyllium husks, you’ll have experienced this first hand. As soon as water is added, they become jellylike, making them far from easy to swallow if you don’t do so immediately. Pectin, found in apples and used to set jam, is another example of soluble fibre.
By contrast, insoluble fibre is stringy and hard to digest. Think of the strings in celery or how sweetcorn passes straight through (!). It’s down to the cellulose which provides the structure of fruit and vegetables; the tough bits we tend to avoid.
If you’re having difficulty in visualising the difference, simply compare a whole apple with a glass of apple juice. Apples contain both types of fibre. Not only do they take time to eat, but we feel fuller having eaten them. By contrast, apple juice contains predominantly soluble fibre, the insoluble fibre remains in the juicer and is thrown away. It’s downed in a moment and doesn’t fill us up, so is quickly forgotten about. However, the big difference is that apple juice is essentially a sugary liquid, requiring little in the way of digestion. As a result, the sugars it contains quickly pass into the blood stream, with all too predictable results.
While it may not seem like it, both types of fibre are important. Insoluble fibre, being rougher, provides a latticework protecting the cells lining the Digestive System. By contrast, soluble fibre, as the name suggests, absorbs water and plugs the gaps. Together they help ensure the digested food – known as chyme – passes smoothly through the Digestive System.
Again, without being too graphic (!) a lack of insoluble fibre causes the chyme to pass through too quickly leading to bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort. While a lack of soluble fibre has the opposite problem which, we’re sure, can be left to your imagination (!).
Which brings us on to processed foods. Not only do they tend to be low in nutrients, they’re also low in fibre but high in sugar and / or fat as well. And this is the worst combination all round, for both us and the “good bacteria” living in our Digestive System. Not only do processed foods fail to provide the fibre we both need (!) but their high sugar content “feeds” the “bad bacteria” also found in our Digestion Systems. This, in turn, causes an overgrowth, throwing the digestive balance out of kilter. You may know it better as Candida – or Thrush – with the number one cause being excess sugar, exacerbated by a lack of fibre…
So, here’s a radical thought. Rather than thinking of food in terms of what it can do for us, what about thinking of it in terms of the “good bacteria” on which we also rely? And, once again, the solution is simple. It’s one of the common threads running through this blog. A whole food diet, high in fruit and vegetables. It’s what our bodies were designed to run on – however much the advertisers may try to persuade us otherwise – and provides everything we need.
We’ve said it many times before and will say it again. Good nutrition and health aren’t complicated, it’s just about eating whole foods, prepared and cooked at home. And, yes, you can still have a treat from time to time; just make sure you know exactly what it really contains and what its effects will be.
As always, the choice is yours.
Photograph by unknown author
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