The Dieticians Association of Australia’s (DAA) current recommendation for dietary fibre is 25-30g fibre per day.
However according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 20% of the population believe they don’t get enough fibre, and more than one in ten Australians (13%) say they have no idea whether or not they are consuming enough fibre. So why are we not consuming enough dietary fibre these days? Is it because our diets rely too heavily on highly processed and refined foods, and we’re not consuming enough quality fruits, vegetables and grains as a result?
Whenever you go to the supermarket, pharmacy and chemists you may notice their shelves are packed with different fibre supplements like Metamucil, bran, psyllium, high fibre breads, cereals and pastas (often fortified). However, the problem with taking fibre supplements like these is that the origin of the food isn’t clear as well as well some containing other synthetic artificial ingredients such as methylcellulose, calcium polycarbophil or wheat dextrin. These ingredients can also interfere with the absorption of some medications and minerals.
Before we talk about how and why you should be consuming more naturally rich sources of fibre into your diet, rather than relying on laxatives and artificial supplements, let’s explain exactly what fibre is.
What is fibre?
Dietary fibre is the structural part of plants and is not digested by the human digestive enzymes, although some are digested by different types of bacteria in our GI tract. There are many types of fibre such as:-
Soluble fibre: absorbs water in the intestines and forms a viscous gel helping to soften the stool. This type of fibre prolongs stomach emptying to allow for more stabilised blood sugar levels. It can ferment in the stomach which can lead to bloating and gas in some individuals. Soluble fibre is found in oats, barley, legumes, some vegetables, berries and citrus.
Insoluble fibre: doesn’t dissolve in water or form a viscous gel. This fibre is less readily fermented. It is believed to remove toxins and carcinogens from the system. The best food sources for insoluble fibre can be found in wholegrains, nuts, seeds, potatoes, fruit and green vegetables (with the skin left on). Insoluble fibre encourages gut bacteria to produce more butyrate (a fatty acid) than soluble fibre. Butyrate is beneficial because it helps to suppress the development of leaky gut and improves the intestinal barrier and encourages the immune system to make specialised immune cells that reduce inflammation.
Both types of fibre add bulk and texture to stools that make them easier to pass and prevent constipation, promoting regularity.
Resistant starch: is also classified as dietary fibre. Resistant starch is able to escape digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Resistant starch is also important in bowel health. Bacteria in the large bowel, ferments and changes the resistant starch into short-chain fatty acids, which are important to bowel health and may protect against cancer. Resistant starch can be found in green bananas, potato flour, cooked and cooled rice and potatoes and legumes.
Prebiotic fibre: prebiotics act as food for probiotics. In other words, probiotics eat prebiotics. Prebiotics are a type of soluble fibre; they are un-digestible plant fibres that already live inside the large intestine. The more food, or prebiotics, that probiotics have to eat, the more efficiently these live bacteria work and the healthier your gut will be. Prebiotics naturally exist in many foods and you may already consume some of them on a regular basis including; garlic, onions, leek, asparagus and green bananas (like plantains). Prebiotics are also found in non-common foods such as chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes and dandelion greens.
The Health Benefits of Fibre
1.Balances blood sugar levels
When you experience a constant roller coaster of blood sugar highs and lows, it creates havoc in your body. It can affect your hormones, slow your metabolism, create chronic inflammation, leave you feeling lethargic, shaky and irritable. Fibre helps to slow the absorption of sugar and since it’s not broken down and digested, it has no effect on blood sugar levels, so it helps to balance your blood sugar levels.
2. Fibre aids detoxification
We all know that fibre is a great way to maintain regular bowel motions, which are the body’s methods of detoxification, as stool is a dumping ground for toxins and waste. If you experience constipation or irregular bowel motions it means you are reabsorbing the chemicals and toxins back into the body. Fibre helps to clean the waste that can linger on the intestinal walls, promote healthy bowel movements as well as preventing toxins from being reabsorbed into the body.
3. Fibre aids in hormonal balance
Your liver plays a humungous role in hormonal balance since it’s responsible for detoxifying used and excess hormones. Toxins and hormones are detoxed via the bile, and consuming fibre not only helps to keep things moving nicely but it also binds to these hormones preventing them from being reabsorbed. Maintaining hormonal balance is important because if they’re not balanced it can create a number of health issues that are difficult to fix.
4. Promotes a healthy gut microbiome
High fibre diets (rich in prebiotic and probiotic foods) help to shift the balance of bacteria, increasing healthy bacteria, while decreasing the unhealthy bacteria that can be the root of some digestive issues.
Additionally, if we don’t eat enough resistant starch then the good bacteria in our bowel will starve, which results in them having to feed off other things such as protein. This creates health issues as they release potentially damaging phenols (aromatic amino acids) instead of beneficial short chain fatty acids. Having enough good gut bacteria and a balanced microbiome is incredibly important for digestion, your immune system, production of neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine) and sleep.
5. Fibre is anti-inflammatory
A few studies have found that people who eat diets high in fibre have lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in their blood. CRP is a marker of inflammation that’s been linked to many diseases. As we mentioned above, a diet rich in fibre feeds the beneficial bacteria living in the gut, these good bacteria will calm inflammation down by releasing anti-inflammatory signals in the body.
If you think you’re not getting enough dietary fibre daily then we have some tips on where the best place to start is.
1. Increase your HIGH fibre and prebiotic foods
The following list of foods are rich in fibre, prebiotics, essential nutrients and minerals which are all required for better health.
- Changing Habits Shredded Coconut, fresh coconut meat and coconut flour
- Changing Habits Deglet Noor Dates
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Changing Habits Chia Seeds
- Changing Habits Inca Inchi Seeds and Protein Powder
- Changing Habits Supreme Green Blend
- Cruciferous vegetables (Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage etc)
2. Increase leafy greens and herbs
- Make pesto’s
- Add more baby spinach and fresh herbs to soups, stews and smoothies
- Add Changing Habits Supreme Green Blend to water, juice or smoothies and drink daily
3. Upgrade your rice to create more resistant starch
If you cook organic white rice together with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, the oil binds to the digestible starch in the rice (that’s the starch that converts to glucose). Once it’s bound with the oil, the digestible starch begins to crystallise and creates resistant starch. Researchers found that when rice was set to cool down after cooking, it promoted crystallisation even further, providing a 15-fold increase in resistant starch compared to normally prepared rice. This results in a lower carb rice, as the rice produces a smaller spike in blood sugar because you receive more resistant starch to take the place of digestible starch. Who knew sushi could be so good for us; it feeds our beneficial gut bacteria!
4. Consume fermented foods daily
Fermented vegetables, coconut yoghurt, coconut water kefir and probiotic drinks all contain both pre and probiotics which not only strengthens the digestive system, restores metabolism and curbs inflammation. If you don’t have the time to make your own fermented foods then we recommend you take the Changing Habits Probiotics daily (for both pre and pro-biotics). You can add it to raw bliss balls, slices, chia puddings, smoothies and more.
Please know that eating more fibre is not a digestive ‘cure all’. If you’re having bloating, constipation (by itself or alternating with diarrhoea), gas, and other digestive problems after eating certain vegetables or foods, you might be having trouble with too much or the wrong kind of fibre for your body(especially if you haven’t slowly introduced it to your diet).
If you are experiencing this, then we recommend a 1 on 1 consultation with a nutritionist, to further discuss these issues. This way you can get the support and guidance you need for your health and body, as well as tips to heal your gut.
Happy changing habits.