Benefits of Fibre, and How to Boost Your Intake
Cait Mizzi, CFNP
Fibre is a form of non-digestible carbohydrate that’s found exclusively in plant foods – fruit, non-starchy and starchy vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Unlike other carbohydrates, like sugar, that get absorbed into our bloodstream, fibre simply passes through our digestive tract. Our bodies don’t actually digest it, instead, it helps to slow down the speed at which sugar enters the blood stream, it can keep us feeling fuller longer, and it helps move waste through and out of your digestive tract, regularly.
Fibre is broken down into two different types: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibres absorb water, which turn into a gelatinous substance as it passes through the digestive system. This helps to lubricate the stool, moving it through the GI tract with ease. These same fibres play a critical role in the maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome, by feeding the billions of diverse and beneficial microbes residing there. As these fibres ferment, short-chain fatty acids are produced. Butyrate, one of the short-chain fatty acids, has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, can increase insulin sensitivity and even delay the onset of neurodegenerative disease.
Insoluble fibres, more commonly referred to as “roughage”, do not dissolve in water and move through the body, more or less, in their original state. They sweep through the GI tract, working as a bulking agent, which can help to keep bowel movements regular.
Ideally, dietary fibre of both kinds, should come from real, whole food sources. Green leafy vegetables, leeks, artichokes, asparagus and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, starchy vegetables like yams, sweet potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables, fruits with edible peels like apples, pears and kiwi, berries of all kinds, as well as nuts and seeds are all fantastic ways to include more fibre into the diet.
The average adult should consume somewhere between 25-38 grams of insoluble fibre per day, of which, 6-8 grams should be soluble. There is, however, a tipping point. Studies have shown that a fibre intake of more than 70 grams per day can lead to significant digestive distress, resulting in painful bloating, gas, constipation and nutrient absorption issues. A slow introduction of more fibre into the diet is a great way to prevent over consumption. Increase water intake while increasing fibre to prevent any uncomfortable effects, and remember, that diet is not one size fits all. Listen to your own body’s cues, some people feel better with less fibre, while some feel better with more.