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Are you eating enough Fibre?

by Cary McKechnie, Registered Naturopath


In the world of health and wellness, some buzzworthy trends come and go, but there's one nutrient that has stood the test of time but is boring, so doesn't get the attention it deserves and that is fibre. Despite its consistent presence on the nutrition scene, many people still underestimate the importance of including an adequate amount of fibre in their diets.



“Most New Zealanders eat less than half the recommended dietary fibre requirements needed for general health”


Fibre plays a critical role in supporting health from digestion to cardiovascular and weight management. Read on to learn about why fibre should be an important aspect in your diet, the ins and outs of the different types and how you can incorporate whole-food sources of beneficial fiber into your diet.



What is Fibre?


Fibre is a non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant-based foods. They are the most simplest unit of carbohydrate, monosaccharides. The body can't fully digest or absorb fibre as the digestive enzymes in our digestive track and those produced in our pancreas can't break down the chains of monosaccharides. So fibre passes through the digestive system relatively intact, but provides a range of health benefits along the way.


Fibre is found mainly in vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes and there are different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble, fermented and unfermented.


Soluble Fiber vs Insoluble Fiber

  • Soluble Fiber is a type of fibre that dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. Soluble fiber slow sthe movement of food through the digestive tract which can be supportive for those suffering with diarrohea or loose stools. Soluble fiber is also metabolised by bacteria in he large intestines that then produce short-chain-fatty-acids (SCFAs) and other beneficial compounds that support gut and systemic health. Soluble fiber is found in foods like oats, beans, berries, sweet potatoes, potatoes, citrus, apple, berries. Soluble fibre can help to lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar levels, and support a healthy gut by feeding beneficial gut bacteria.


“SCFA are compounds that control the gut’s immune system and have an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to reduce inflammation, including brain inflammation and modulating glucose absorption in the gut."


  • Insoluble Fiber is a type of fibre that doesn't dissolve in water but adds bulk to stools, aiding in regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. Some types of insoluble fibre are also fermentable. Foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, and the skins of fruits and vegetables are good sources of insoluble fibre.


For a healthy gut function and dietary support for general health you want to make sure you are getting a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibers in your diet.



Benefits of Fibre


Let's talk about the health benefits of fibre.


  • Improved Gut Health: Fiber is important for gut health as it promotes regular bowel movements, to prevent constipation but at the same time can slow digestion down when things are moving too fast through your digestive track. Fiber can alter stool viscosity, and increase viscosity enables visceral signalling to the enteric nervous system, increasing muslce contractions and thus increasing stool movement. Digestive benefits don't stop there, islet cells in our digestive track access the fiber and convert it into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Our gut bacteria thrive on fiber, and consuming healthy amounts of fiber supports an increase in diversity and numbers in beneficial gut bacteria that go on to have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects.


  • Immune System Support: Fiber dervied metaoblites in our gut microbiome have a wide ranging effect on immune regulation - from the management of allergic disease to the common cold and flu. Fibre improves microbe diversity and production of SCFAs which stimulate the production of Regulartory T cells, a specialised cell that acts to suppress overactive immune response. Regulatory T-cells play a critical role in preventing autoimmunity as well as down-regulating the immune response when autoimmunity flares up.


  • Mood & Brain Health: Gut health and brain health are intrinsically linked through the gut-brain axis. As bidirectional network that connects our gut microbiome & enteric nervous system with out central nervous system. As fibres are converted into SCFAs, these SCFAs are found to be powerful regulators of inflammation through their anti-inflammatory effect. When we down regulate systemic inflammation in the gut this has an effect on mood and brain function.

“The gut provides approximately 95% of total body serotonin. SCFAs regulate the release of gut peptides shown to regulate the synthesis of serotonin, both of which in turn affect gut–brain hormonal communication."

  • Weight Management: High-fiber foods are often more filling and satisfying, leading to better appetite regulation. People who are overweight, are shown to have imbalances in their gut microbiome profiles. Consuming a variety of high-fiber foods not only helps regulate appetite centers but also supports SCFA production supporting a more diverse microbiome which has wide-ranging effects.

  • Cardiovascular Health: Poor cardiovascular health is associated with hypertension, dyslipidemia, glucose/insulin regulation, obesity to name a few. When blood pressure is high and combined with cholesterol that is too high for example it causes damage to your vascular endothelium causing the and increase risk for LDL oxidation and atherosclerosis. Soluble fibre is a supportive dietary tool in managing lipid metabolism and clinical shown to reduce cardiovascular risk and coronary heart disease.

  • Blood Sugar Control: Soluble Fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates from foods preventing rapid absorption of glucose in the gut reducing glucose spikes. Fibre-rich foods are generally lower on the glycemic index and if you have blood sugar dysregulation like hypoglycemia or insulin resistance the more fibre your food has the fewer spikes and crashes you will get in blood sugar. Regardless of what type of sugar dysregulation you have - TYP1DM, auto-immune diabetes, hyperinsulinemia or hypoglycemia fibre supports all dysglycemia patterns. a healthy amount of fiber is a great nutritional component for anyone suffering from any form of diabetes.

  • Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases: A diet rich in fibre has been associated with a reduced risk of various chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer's and obesity.


"General Guidance is to eat around 25-30g of fibre daily”


Are you getting enough fiber?



Way to increase your dietary fibre intake?


  • Load Up on non-starchy vegetables: Aim to fill half your plate with colourful vegetables. Don't peel the skins off, as they often contain valuable fiber.


  • Choose Whole Grains: Opt for whole grain options like brown rice, whole wheat bread, quinoa, and whole grain pasta instead of their refined counterparts.


  • Include Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of fiber and can be added to soups, salads, and various dishes.


  • Snack on Nuts and Seeds: Keep a variety of nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds on hand for convenient, fiber-rich snacks.


  • Read Food Labels: When purchasing packaged foods, check the nutrition label for the fiber content. Look for products with higher fiber content per serve.



"Consuming enough fiber takes a conscious effort but the impact on your health is worth it!

In the quest for a balanced and healthy diet, fiber often takes a back seat to other nutrients. However, its impact on our overall well-being is undeniable. From digestive health to disease prevention, fiber plays a multifaceted role in keeping our bodies functioning optimally.




If not, it's time to start incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your meals and reaping the benefits. Your body will thank you for it.





References

The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood


Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovasculalr disease: systematic review and meta-analysisys

https://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f6879#:~:text=Total%20dietary%20fibre%20intake%20was,0.91%20(0.87%20to%200.94)).


Role of dietary fiber in promoting immune health https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/all.15430


Molecular impact of Dietary fibre Metabolites on Intestinal Immunity of Host https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/84615



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