The benefits of fibre in your diet are incredible. Adding more fibre to your diet (especially the right types) will make a significant difference in your overall health. Fibre is beneficial for your health for many different reasons. Otherwise known as non-digestible carbohydrates, fibre is a food known for supporting healthy digestion and bodily function. Most people need around 30 grams of fibre per day. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to consume fibre.
For the most part, fibre is found in whole foods (mostly plant foods) such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Today, we’re going to explore the many advantages of eating high fibre foods and share some top tips on enhancing your diet with fibre.
What is Fiber? Different Types of Fiber and Their Benefits
There are various kinds of fibre, and each type of fibre comes with its own benefits.
The benefits you can get from eating fibre are mediated by your “gut microbiota” – the bacteria living in your digestive system. Different kinds of fibre influence the microbiota in different ways, resulting in unique responses within your body.
The two primary forms of fibre are soluble fibre and insoluble fibre
Soluble fibres blend with water in your gut, and help flush fatty acids out of the body, and help lower bad cholesterol. Any soluble fibres will slow your digestion, which means you’re less likely to experience blood sugar spikes since it’ll take longer for your body to absorb sugars.
Insoluble fibres, on the other hand, do not blend with water and help keep you hydrated. Insoluble fibres also help prevent constipation. They aid in the movement of waste through your intestines so that you have healthy and regular bowel movements. This is of course an important component of your overall health and wellness.
Soluble fibres include pectins, gums, psyllium, and beta-glucans, while insoluble fibres include cellulose, lignin, and other complex substances.
Exploring Different Kinds of Fiber
Beyond insoluble and soluble fibres, there are also a host of different forms of fibre, from fermentable fibre to dietary and functional fibres.
Functional fibre is the term used to refer to all non-digestible carbohydrates which have a specific function within the human body. Fermentable, viscous, and dietary fibres are all forms of functional fibre because they pass through your system with purpose.
Beta-glucans, for instance, a form of fermentable fibre, can help to improve the performance of your immune system. Cellulose, an insoluble fibre, helps with body repair and recovery. Psyllium, a viscous fibre, is often used for encouraging healthy bowel movements.
Fermentable fibres are essential for the 100 trillion bacteria living in the human gut. Though having bacteria inside you might sound scary, these bacteria are crucial for human health, because they assist with everything from immune system support, to blood sugar, weight management, and mental health.
Since we can’t digest fibre on our own, it ends up in the large intestine without going through much of a change. This is where fermentable fibres do their job. Gut bacteria can digest fermentable fibre, and use it as fuel, increasing the balance of good bacteria in your stomach.
Fermentable fibres include things like beta-glucans and pectins, you can find them in legumes, beans, and similar products. While fermentable fibre is great for your gut – it can cause gas in high amounts.
Viscous fibre is a form of functional fibre which forms a thick gel when blended with water. When you consume viscous fibres, it forms a gel-like substance in the gut, which can reduce the digestion and absorption of nutrients, resulting in a prolonged feeling of fullness.
Viscous fibre could be suitable for improving weight loss when used as part of a comprehensive diet and exercise plan. Studies have found that only viscous fibres are suitable for reducing food intake and improving calorie deficits.
Viscous fibres can include everything from psyllium, to pectins and guar gum. You can find these substances in legumes, Brussel sprouts, flax seeds, oats, and asparagus.
Valuable Forms of Dietary Fiber
Dietary fibre is the word used to refer to any fibre you can consume as part of a healthy diet. This includes not only fibre-rich foods but supplements too. A DNA test could even show you which kinds of specific fibre molecules you generally don’t get enough of. This ensures you know which kinds of foods you need to top up to achieve your health goals.
Studies show that most people don’t get enough fibre in their diets today, with only around 5% of all people achieving their intake recommendations. While all forms of functional fibre have benefits to offer, here are some special kinds of fibre to be aware of.
- Resistant starch: Resistant starches, like green bananas and cashews, are excellent for improving digestive health, and insulin sensitivity. Eating enough can lower your blood sugar levels and reduce your appetite.
- Beta-glucans: Beta-glucans are highly viscous in the gut, making them ideal for reducing blood sugar levels, and heightening insulin sensitivity. They’re excellent for increasing feelings of fullness after eating too.
- Glucomannan: This highly viscous fiber is useful for weight loss, because it’s excellent for increasing feelings of fullness. It also fights constipation, and protects against heart disease.
One particular type of dietary fibre you may need to stay away from is the fructan. Fructans are small chains of fructose molecules, which can feed the friendly bacteria in the gut, and even reduce the risk of diarrhoea. Unfortunately, Fructans are also FODMAPs – which are a type of carbohydrate that can cause digestive problems for some people.
Your DNA test will give you more information about whether you should be avoiding FODMAPs, but around 3 in 4 people find these substances trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. The biggest source of fructans today is wheat.
Health Benefits of Fiber
Adding more fibre to your diet is an excellent way to improve your health.
However, like most things, you need to make sure you’re investing in the right kind of fibre.
Used correctly, fibre can improve your chances of losing weight, and help you get rid of excess belly fat. Since fibre helps us feel fuller for longer, we’re less likely to overeat or engage in late-night snacking. Fibre also feeds the “good” bacteria in your stomach, allowing for a better digestive system.
Good fibre intake is extremely beneficial to your gut. It can even help with various gastrointestinal disorders, including colorectal ulcers, haemorrhoid’s, diverticular disease, Hiatal hernias, and more. One study even found that fibre intake may reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
It’s not just good gut health that fibre offers, either. The health benefits of fibre include:
- Weight loss: Fiber helps soak up water in the intestine, slowing nutrient absorption and increasing feelings of fullness. This helps control your appetite. Your ability to lose weight with increased fibre intake will depend on various factors, however, including what kind of fibre you eat.
- Blood sugar management: High fibre foods often have a lower glycaemic index than refined carbs. Viscous fibres can create smaller spikes in blood sugar, which help with your blood sugar management.
- Improved heart health: Studies indicate certain kinds of fibre can help to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Experts believe this is because fibre reduces the total low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and total cholesterol levels in the body.
Of course, higher fibre intake also has another benefit – it can reduce constipation and help you have healthier bowel movements. Adding more fibre to your diet can help regulate your bowel movements, which generally leads to a healthier, more comfortable life with less stomach pain.
Adding Dietary Fiber to Your Meal Plan
Dietary fibre is an excellent solution for improving your health. Not only does it feed your gut bacteria and improve your digestion, but it can help you to lose weight, lower your cholesterol levels, and even manage blood sugar better too.
Unfortunately, adding more fibre to your diet isn’t always easy. If you can consume fibre without a problem, you can simply add more legumes and high-fibre products to your diet. Alternatively, you might consider asking your doctor about fibre supplements.
However, if you have a fibre-based food allergy, it can be difficult to find the right source of fibre for your needs. For instance, wheat is a great source of fibre and fructans, but it can also cause symptoms of irritable bowel disease in some people. In most cases, it will be the food, not the fibre itself that causes your allergic reaction. However, getting advice from a doctor will be crucial to ensure you can maintain a healthy diet.
There are many dieticians who can help you devise a meal plan that incorporates healthy fibre so that you can start reaping all the health benefits that fibre has to offer.