🙋🏼♀️ Hands up anyone who has ever experienced constipation and has been told to ‘eat more fibre’. When my doctor told me that for the millionth time, I remember thinking, what the hell does that actually mean? I used to assume that I got enough fibre from my bran flakes…it said ‘high in fibre’ on the box so why was I still constipated?! I now realise that A. I wasn’t getting enough fibre, B. this contributed hugely to my chronic constipation and C. despite what the clever labelling told me, there are much better sources of fibre than cereal.
Fibre is the bit of plants that is, for our human gut, indigestible. Although we can’t break it down and absorb it, consuming enough fibre is still really important for overall health. There are 2 types of fibre: soluble fibre will absorb liquids and is sticky. Insoluble fibre doesn’t absorb water and is rougher in texture.
Fibre, both soluble and insoluble promotes good digestive health. Our guts are long, thin tubes of smooth muscle, this muscle contracts in a wave like motion to move stuff along. Insoluble fibre adds ruffage and bulk to our stool which regulates bowel movements. Think about how difficult it is and how much you have to squeeze an almost empty toothpaste tube to get just a little toothpaste out and how much easier it is to get toothpaste out of a full tube. It’s the same for the muscles of our gut, having enough ‘bulk’ from insoluble fibre makes it easier for them to move the contents of your gut along to where they can be excreted.
Soluble fibre, because it absorbs water, helps lubricate the bowels. It is also a prebiotic, this means it acts as a food supply for our gut bacteria. Keeping the gut microbiome, which resides in our large intestine, fed and healthy is in our best interest. Soluble fibre is sticky when combined with water so it binds to things like excess cholesterol and other waste products the body wants to excrete. Without enough soluble fibre, these waste products can reabsorb through the gut and back into the blood stream.
Getting the right amount of fibre requires hitting a sweet spot, too little can lead to poor bowel regulation, either constipation or loose bowels. It can also leave you with poor appetite regulation, i.e. not feeling satisfied after meals or becoming hungry soon after a meal. Issues with blood sugar or cholesterol management have also been linked to lack of fibre in the diet. Too much fibre can cause abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating.
To get enough fibre, most of us could do with eating more veggies. Vegetables contain both types of fibre, are nutrient dense and low calorie so aim for 1-2 fist size portions of veg with every meal. If your diet includes a rainbow of plant matter every day, your fibre intake should be spot on and you will be able to enjoy all the perks!