You probably know by now that getting enough fibre is pretty important – but did you know it’s about so much more than ‘keeping you regular’? In fact, lots of studies have highlighted the health benefits of fibre reaching way beyond our digestive system.
But first, what actually is fibre?
Essentially, fibre is a type of carbohydrate that humans can’t digest. Instead, it continues on its merry way down the digestive tract into the large intestine, where it reaches our community of trillions of microbes that look after us every day. This community is considered as our newly discovered organ and is collectively known as our gut microbiota (GM). Fibre is our GM’s favourite nutrient (and mine too, for that very reason!) and its sole purpose is to feed these microbes – and trust me, we do not want hangry microbes!
Why is fibre so important?
Fibre is an essential nutrient for many reasons. Firstly, it feeds our trillions of gut microbes – I often think of it as fertiliser for them.
When it comes to supporting your gut health, which is linked to the health of pretty much every other organ in the body from our heart, our skin and our brain, one of the most important things you can do is enjoy a diverse diet rich in fibre. Diets high fibre from a diverse range of plant-based sources are linked with greater GM diversity – a marker of good gut and overall health.
This ‘super’ nutrient contributes to bulking out our poop (which is a good thing!), thickening the contents of our gut and keeping us regular. It also plays a role in helping many chronic conditions and lowering cholesterol levels, as well as helping to prevent blood sugar spikes and keeping us feeling fuller for longer.
What’s more, an increase of just 8g of fibre per day has been linked with:
- 19% lower risk of heart disease
- 15% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- 8% lower risk of colon cancer
How can you boost your fibre intake?
Sadly, with the modern Western diet high in processed food and low in wholefoods, research has shown that 90% of us aren’t getting the recommended 30g fibre daily.
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Fibre is the backbone of plants and each plant-based food group (wholegrains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds) contains different types of fibre. Diversity is key and I recommend aiming for 30 different types of plant-based foods every week!
I know that can often sound overwhelming at first – but don’t let that put you off. Small changes can lead to big fibre increases, such as:
- Switching from white to wholegrain bread
- Keeping the skin on your vegetables
- Sprinkling mixed seeds onto your meals
- Snacking on nuts or dried fruit instead of crisps
- Using frozen veggies as a handy option when you’re busy
As a general guide, here’s a handy formula for getting your gut-boosting 30g fibre every day:
- At least 2 pieces of fruit
- 5 portions of vegetables
- 3 portions of wholegrains
- 1-2 portions of nuts, seeds and legumes
Getting a little gassy after suddenly eating more fibre?
That’s totally normal. Your GM will be feasting on all of the new fibre they’re getting (think microbial party leading to a bit of bloating and gas!). It can take time for your large intestine to adjust to the extra ‘load’, so try upping your fibre intake gradually – adding by a portion a week and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to help the fibre work its magic.