Fibre The Real Health Hero

Fibre is the indigestible part of plant foods that work to keep your digestive system happy and healthy. It can also work towards reducing the risk of chronic diseases. There are three main types of fibre. [1]

  1. Soluble fibre: dissolves in water creating a gel in your gut which slows down digestion, keeping you feeling full for longer and also helps to reduce cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels.
  2. Insoluble fibre: absorbs water which adds bulk to stools to help the bowels pass easily and regularly.

Fibre intake and weight loss

Increasing your fibre intake can cause you to feel full for longer as it can slow down the movement of food passing through your gut, taking a longer time for your food to be digested. [2] This can then act towards reducing your appetite. When your appetite is less, you may consume a reduced caloric intake, placing you in a calorie deficit which will aid in weight loss.

Fibre intake and constipation

Increasing fibre intake has been shown to reduce constipation by increasing the stool bulk speeding up the movement of stools through the intestine to help pass the bowels smoothly and easily. [3] However, this depends on the type of fibre you consume as not all types of fibre produce the same result.  Consuming insoluble fibre helps to speed up the transit of food in the digestive system which is beneficial for constipation. [3] Some types of soluble fibre may help constipation, however other types such as soluble fibre may be more suitable to slow down digestion and be beneficial to support diarrhoea. [3] Additionally, when increasing fibre it is important to do this gradually and to ensure water intake is also sufficient to prevent any stomach discomfort and bloating. [1,3]

Fibre supplements

It is possible to obtain fibre through supplements. However, it is important to note that consuming an unhealthy diet and incorporating fibre supplements to boost your health would not create a ‘healthy diet’. It is unclear as to whether fibre supplements or fibre rich food have the same health benefits, since a majority of the available fibre supplements are only aimed at preventing constipation instead of being linked to the other health benefits of lowering cholesterol or blood sugar levels etc. [4] Therefore, it is better to obtain fibre from natural food sources to receive the advantage of a wide array of health benefits compared to a supplement unless prescribed by your doctor. [4] If you’re taking a fibre supplement you could experience some discomfort and bloating. To reduce this, gradually introduce fibre into your system and drink plenty of water.

Food sources rich in fibre [1]

  • Soluble fibre: oats, legumes and beans, peas, apples, oranges, nuts, flax seeds and other seeds
  • Insoluble fibre: wheat bran, dark green leafy vegetables, skins of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains

Tips to consider to help increase fibre intake

  • Choose wholemeal or wholegrain carbohydrate sources instead of refined grains
  • Add vegetables to your lunch and dinner meals and include green leafy vegetables, skins of potatoes, legumes, pulses and beans.
  • Eat fruits with the skin on.
  • Eat the fruit instead of drinking juice.
  • Add nuts and seeds to your snacks and main meals where possible.
  • Bake with high fibre flours such as buckwheat flour, atta flour, wholemeal flour, coconut flour, etc.

References

  1. Barber T, Kabisch S, Pfeiffer A, Weickert M. The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):3209.
  2. Howarth N, Saltzman E, Roberts S. Dietary Fiber and Weight Regulation. Nutrition Reviews. 2009;59(5):129-139.
  3. Yang J. Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta analysis. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2012;18(48):7378.
  4. Lambeau K, McRorie J. Fiber supplements and clinically proven health benefits. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. 2017;29(4):216-223.
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