2 Nutritionists Explain The Importance of Fibre & The Best Foods To Eat
2 Nutritionists Explain The Importance of Fibre & The Best Foods To Eat

2 Nutritionists Explain The Importance of Fibre & The Best Foods To Eat

You probably know you ought to be eating more fibre than you are, but do you know why, or what happens if you don’t get enough? According to a poll by YouGov, as many as 43% of the UK experience some form of digestive discomfort, whether it’s uncomfortable bloating, irregular bowel movements or abdominal pain. To alleviate those symptoms and look after the health if your gut, it’s essential to get enough fibre into your daily diet. To find out how much we should be eating, as well as the key benefits and the best types of fibre out there, we went straight to the experts.
By Georgia Day

Why is fibre so important for our overall health?

“Eating a diet high in fibre can offer many health benefits. Fibre helps to keep the bowels healthy and reduces the risk of constipation, keeping us regular. Fibre helps to feed the good bacteria in the gut. As humans, we do not have the enzymes to digest fibre, but the intestinal bacteria present in the gut have the enzymes needed to break down these fibres. In fact, these fibres help feed these good bacteria found in the gut, and these fibres are also called prebiotics. They are essentially a food source for the fibre. When the fibre is broken down, by products such as short-chain fatty acids are produced, which have many associated health benefits. In fact, these short chain fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in the gut and can support metabolism and immunity. A diet high in fibre has been shown to reduce risk of certain disease such as diverticulitis, colorectal cancer, and even help reduce cholesterol levels.” - Reema Pillai, London-based nutritionist at Dietitian Fit & Co

What can happen if you don’t get enough?

“In the UK it is recommended that all adults consume 30g of dietary fibre a day. A diet low in fibre is associated with an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. We also know it really impacts the diversity of microbes in our gut. When the good microbes in our gut digest the fibre they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These have a huge anti-inflammatory effect on the gut lining but also support health cholesterol levels. For women particularly, too little fibre can cause us to reabsorb waste oestrogen back through the intestines causing oestrogen dominant symptoms such as PMS, migraines, and heavy menstruation. If you are not having a formed bowel movement at least once a day, make increasing your fibre and your water consumption an absolute priority. This is often the first thing I work on with clients. I cannot overemphasise the importance!” – Becca Meadows, nutritionist

What’s the difference between soluble and insoluble fibre?

“Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel in the stomach. This can slow digestion, balance blood sugar, and help you feel fuller for longer. Examples of soluble fibre are pectins in fruit and inulin found in vegetables like onions and asparagus. Whereas insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and helps to move waste products through your intestines adding bulk to stool and easing constipation. You can find it as cellulose in vegetable skins or wholegrains and lignans in nuts and seeds like flax, pumpkin, or sunflower.’ – Becca

How does fibre affect blood sugar?

“Soluble fibre slows down the time it takes for food to move through the digestive system. This means that it takes longer for carbohydrate to break down into glucose in the intestines and for the glucose to get into the bloodstream. So, less spikes and importantly less blood sugar crashes as a result! So not only will you feel fuller for longer, but your energy levels should feel more balanced and there’s less chance of that 3pm slump.” – Becca  

Is some fibre superior to others?

“We need all different types of fibre. Research shows we have a more diverse microbiome (which is a good thing) if we consume a wide range of plant-based foods. A good marker to aim for is 30 different plant-based foods a week. Think bags of stir fry vegetables, frozen mixed berries or bags of mixed nuts and seeds as easy ways to get closer to your 30. Herbs and spices count too. Depending on your own personal digestion and any symptoms it might be that you want to maximise, add soluble fibre to slow down digestion or add insoluble fibre to help keep things more regular. It’s also important to mention those who may suffer from irritable bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome who may need more specialist advice and may be directed to avoid certain types of fibre on a diet known as the low FODMAP diet. This is a very restrictive diet and is only recommended under the guidance of a health practitioner such as your doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist.” – Becca

What else should you take alongside your daily fibre intake to help absorption and efficacy?

“Firstly, go steady with increasing your fibre and do it gradually. It is important to stay hydrated through this process.  You may notice some digestive discomfort in the first week or so and water will help your digestive system to work effectively. Secondly, don’t just think about what you are eating but how. Sitting at a table, putting screens away, savouring food and chewing properly signals to the digestive system to prepare for incoming food allowing it to work as effectively as possible. This gives our gut microbes the best possible chance of digesting some of that fibre.” - Becca

Does it matter when in the day you eat fibre?

“I recommend staggering fibre intake slowly across the day, with sources of fibre at each meal or snack time, to prevent overconsumption of fibre in a small window, which can cause bloating and a feeling of being overly full if too much is consumed all at once.” – Reema 

Should you enhance your fibre intake with supplements?

“Ideally, increasing your fibre intake should be done very slowly through dietary changes, to allow your body to get used to this increase in fibre, rather than relying on supplements. This is because [most] fibre supplements themselves only contain one or two types of fibre, which does not add to the diversity for the gut bacteria. Natural food sources of fibres from plant foods will provide a broad range of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, which will provide plenty of other health benefits aside from just the fibre supplement itself. If you struggle with increasing fibre intake through dietary changes alone, this may be a good time to consider a supplement, but it is always best to speak with a dietitian first.” – Reema  

Can you have too much fibre?

“Some people are sensitive to having a high fibre intake, which can lead to unpleasant side effects. This is because for some, the bacteria which ferment and break down the fibre in the intestine can produce gas as a by-product, leading to excess gas and bloating, as well as possible side effects of constipation. This is more common in those with gut issues such as IBS or IBD. However, most people can tolerate fibre well and in fact, most of the population do not even consume half the recommended intake of fibre each day, so having too much fibre for most people is very unlikely. It is important to slowly add in more fibre overtime rather than suddenly adding in lots of fibre at once, to allow the body to adjust to the change.” – Reema  

Here’s what fibrous foods the experts recommend…

“For women and our hormones my top 3 fibrous foods are ground flax, broccoli, avocado; flax is up to 45% fibre. They are so easy to add making them a great place to start to work on increasing fibre intake. They also contain anti-inflammatory omega 3. Broccoli is a brilliant source of soluble fibre and contains a powerful compound called sulforaphane which supports hormone detoxification in the liver. Avocado is rich in soluble and insoluble fibre but also in monounsaturated fat. Fat is essential for female hormone production, balance and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K.” – Becca 

“On average, there is around 7g fibre in 100g avocado. It is a source of healthy fats as well as nutrients such as vitamins B and E. Including half an avocado into your daily diet can be a good way to get in a healthy dose of fibre, and can be used in a savoury breakfast, in salads or blended into smoothies, pasta sauces and dips. Oats provide a specific type of soluble fibre known as beta glucan, which has been well researched to support with reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels overtime. A 50g serving of oats contains 5g fibre. Combine a bowl of porridge with some seeds, nuts and fruit, to further boost this fibre content. Any type of legume is a rich source of fibre. These are inexpensive, easily available and also provide a source of protein along with the fibre. Generally, 100g of cooked beans or lentils can provide between 6-10g fibre, depending on the variety and type.” – Reema  

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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