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Nutrient - The benefits of fibre

By Emma Mihill ND NT DipCNM MBANT

A true definition of dietary fibre: dietary fibre consists of edible plants resistant to digestive enzymes and absorption in the human digestive tract.

There are two main categories into which fibre falls; soluble fibre (such as pectin, found in apples) and insoluble fibre (such as cellulose, found in flax seed). Soluble fibre is fermented in the colon, enhancing by-products that are beneficial for the colon environment, whereas insoluble fibre absorbs water throughout its gastrointestinal journey, promoting ease of bowel movements. There are also some plants that have both insoluble and soluble fibre; for example, a plum’s skin is insoluble; however, the pulp is soluble. 

It is commonly known that a lack of dietary fibre leads to poor bowel movements. However, it is less known that a diet low in dietary fibre can also lead to diseases of the colon, gastrointestinal tract, colon cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Fibre helps reduce total cholesterol and blood fat levels, while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which makes it a vital component of your diet in helping maintain heart health. Those consuming a low-fibre diet are often obese, as fibre increases the amount of chewing (therefore, you eat less), increases the caloric faecal loss and induces feelings of fullness. In addition, people on low-fibre diets tend to eat too many refined, white and high-sugar foods. Fibre also improves blood sugar control and releases food gradually into the intestine, making it an important part of the diet, especially for those at risk of diabetes.

The health benefits of increasing fibre in our diet are unequivocal. Increasing fibre is important for those with constipation, but it is also needed in the diet for those suffering with diarrhoea, because it slows down the transit time of bowel movements. Water-insoluble fibre, such as cellulose, increases the weight of faecal mass, producing bulkier stools that pass through the colon more easily and require less straining. Fibre plays a central role with regard to our important gut micro-flora by maintaining suitable bacteria that promote short-chain fatty acids, creating the right pH (acidic) environment.

Good sources of soluble fibre are:

  • Flax seed
  • Hemp seed
  • Nuts
  • Oats
  • Fruits
  • Beans and pulses
  • Barley
  • Vegetables (carrots)
  • Psyllium husks

Good sources of insoluble fibre include:

  • Vegetables, such as green beans and dark green leafy vegetables
  • Fruit skins and root vegetable skins
  • Wholegrain foods
  • Seeds and nuts

When choosing which foods to eat, disregard whether they are higher in soluble or insoluble fibre. Instead, simply choose to eat a predominantly plant-rich diet, ensuring not only your 25g (or more) recommended daily fibre intake, but also a plethora of rich antioxidants from the colourful vegetables and fruits on your plate. 

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