Fibre. Most people are aware of it, yet it is worthy of more attention than it gets. Broadly speaking, this component of whole plant foods provides a huge array of health benefits.
Take a minute and read a little on why fibre is great, and why you should love it.
1. Cleans and clears
Fibre helps us clear out endogenous and exogenous chemicals, toxins, unhelpful microbes, and any other waste products, which can lead to clearer skin, brighter eyes, balancing of hormones, and reducing risk factors for conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
Not to mention getting your bowels moving regularly and happily! If you have ever been the subject of persistent constipation or diarrhoea, you will understand the good time that is a good poo.
2. Feeds the gut bugs
Fibre is required for a healthy intestinal microbiome. Why do we care about the health of the human gut microbiome?
Well, it pretty much influences every aspect of health – mood, inflammation, weight, and conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, a myriad of gastrointestinal issues – the list goes on.
Humans cannot digest or absorb fibre, but it is essential for good health.
Certain fibres are the favourite food of the microbes located in the intestinal tract. These include fermentable (prebiotic) fibres are found in whole foods such as beans, legumes, some veg, and oats, and resistant starch, found in foods such as unripe bananas, plantains, and cooked and cooled rice, legumes, or potatoes.
When these are digested by the gut bugs, short-chain fatty acids are produced, such as butyrate, propionate, and acetate.
Short-chain fatty acids feed the cells of the colon, help lower inflammation, and are protective and preventative for gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel and Crohn’s diseases.
Butyrate is also believed to be brain-protective, encouraging neuroplasticity and regeneration, and may be of use as part of treatment for a variety of brain disorders, as suggested below.1
Essentially, if we can keep the good gut bugs happy with some fermentable fibre and resistant starch, we are helping ourselves in a number of ways.
3. Is protective
Fibre is delivered in whole foods that offer an array of other nutrients that are anti-inflammatory and health-protective. Think vegetables, leafy greens, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, and some whole grain like oats and brown rice.
Diets higher in fibre have been associated with reduced risk for:
- cardiovascular disease
- type 2 diabetes
- inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal conditions
- some cancers.2-4
Resistant starch, specifically, may improve insulin sensitivity.5
Fibre also slows the absorption of simple sugars into the bloodstream, avoiding post-food spikes and crashes of blood glucose and insulin (and your energy),4 as well as an onslaught of fructose to the liver. Hence why naturally occurring sugars in whole foods are not often a problem, but free sugars in soft drink are.
Combined with the beneficial effect on the gut microbial populations, this is why there is a positive association between adequate dietary fibre intake and reduced risk of overweight and insulin resistance.4
Fuel up on fibre!
The health benefits of consuming fibre are (at least in part) due to its effect on the function of the digestive tract, feeding beneficial gut bugs of the microbiome, and the benefit of butyrate produced by the gut bugs.
Just make sure you are getting enough!
If you are eating mostly real whole foods, including an abundance of vegetables, you are likely already meeting the recommended 25-30 grams daily intake.
Some healthcare experts believe on average our hunter-gatherer ancestors were chomping down on up to 100 grams a day from simple whole foods like leaves, berries, and roots.
We aren’t saying going overboard on the stuff – 100 grams of fibre a day is a lot of food!
When seeking fibrous foods, take some ancestral inspiration and enjoy good quality real, whole foods, over the packaged stuff ‘fortified’ with added fibre (such as high sugar cereal products).
Within the 25-30 grams, aim to get some resistant starch, and ensure a mix of soluble (the type that blends with water and prevents constipation) and insoluble (the type that adds bulk to stools, helping them pass with ease) fibre. Each plant food will have a different ratio of soluble to insoluble fibre.
So, go on – fuel up on this original superfood. Because you, and your gut bugs, are worth it.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Bourassa, MW, Alim, I, Bultman, SJ, & Ratan, RR 2016, ‘Butyrate, neuroepigenetics and the gut microbiome: Can a high fiber diet improve brain health?’, Neuroscience Letters, p. 56.
- Anderson, JW, Baird, P, Davis, RH, Ferreri, S, Knudtson, M, Koraym, A, Waters, V, & Williams, CL 2009, ‘Health benefits of dietary fiber’, Nutrition Reviews, vol. 67, no. 4, pp. 188-205
- Kim, Y, & Je, Y 2016, ‘Dietary fibre intake and mortality from cardiovascular disease and all cancers: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies’, Archives Of Cardiovascular Diseases, vol. 109, no. 1, pp. 39-54.
- Weickert, MO, & Pfeiffer, AH 2008, ‘Metabolic effects of dietary fiber consumption and prevention of diabetes’, The Journal Of Nutrition, vol. 138, no. 3, pp. 439-442.
- Johnston, KL, Thomas, EL, Bell, JD, Frost, GS, & Robertson, MD 2010, ‘Resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity in metabolic syndrome’, Diabetic Medicine: A Journal Of The British Diabetic Association, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 391-397.