Most people will tell you that fibre is important for health. We keep reading about fibre on cereal packets and through advertisements on billboards and mainstream television. In fact, there is universal acceptance of a well-balanced diet containing fibre and yet just how important is fibre? How much do we require on a daily basis? How can we increase our intake, if required, and what are the best food sources?
What is fibre?
Fibre is the roughage found in cereals, fruits and vegetables and is basically the cell structure of plants and vegetables that give shape and rigidity. When we eat vegetables and fruits, we get numerous benefits from the nutrients that are present in these but we also ingest fibre with its positive effects on the digestive tract. It is estimated that by the time we reach the age of 20, we will have ingested 15,000 meals and all of this food must be flushed out correctly otherwise we can end up with constipation or equally worse nutrient deficiencies or toxin build-up due to the stagnation of food in the intestines. It is the fibre in our diet that is important for gastrointestinal movement!
There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. All plants, vegetables and fruits contain normally both these types of fibres which vary according to the plant type. They have been classified in this manner according to whether the fibre dissolves in hot water and explains the different actions in the body.
Insoluble fibres are obtained from wheat bran and the skins of fruits and vegetables. They are generally removed due to food processing, peeling and extraction processes resulting in dietary deficiencies. Insoluble fibres absorb water through the gut like a sponge helping to remove faecal matter and prevent constipation.
Sources of soluble fibres include oats, peas, lentils and apples. They break down in the gut resulting in gel like compounds such as mucilages and pectin that have a variety of health protective properties discussed later.
How much fibre should we consume?
The Department of Health recommends 30 grams a day from a variety of food sources for adults. However, it is believed that the average person in the UK consumes approximately 18 grams of fibre, which can lead to deficiencies.
What are the health benefits of fibre?
- Help to delay gastric emptying time and hence aid in the absorption of nutrients.
- Bind water in the intestine and increase the volume of waste matter resulting in more frequent and softer bowel motions with less risk of constipation.
- Cleanse plaque, debris and pathogenic organisms out of the intestines.
- Fibre in the large intestine acts as a fuel source for the bacteria to thrive. These bacteria are responsible for a variety of functions ranging from the production of immune enhancing compounds through to the supply of vital B vitamins to the body.
- Support weight loss by creating a feeling of fullness.
In addition to the above benefits, Soluble fibres:
- Inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol and fats thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Stabilise blood sugar absorption and hence maintain energy balance in the body.
- Help to soothe the irritated linings of the intestines easing the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases such as IBS.
- Assist in the elimination of toxins and heavy metals from the gut.
The lack of fibre in the diet is linked to a number of concerns including elevated cholesterol, fluctuations in blood glucose levels, bowel irregularity, colon conditions and cardiovascular concerns.
Where can I get fibre from?
Animal sources do not supply any fibre. Plant sources are the only ones that supply sufficient fibre necessary for the optimum health of the body and include:
- Wheat, oats, barley and grains including brown rice.
- Unprocessed seeds including flax, sesame, psyllium and sunflower.
- Vegetables including carrots, broccoli, artichokes, brussel sprouts, spinach, yams and beetroot.
- Legumes such as kidney beans, chick peas, soya beans, lentils and peas.
- Fruits such as apples, pears, prunes and raspberries.
- Supplements – there are some excellent supplements providing both types of fibres.
What are the best fibre supplements?
It is clear that our dietary intake of fibre-rich foods is insufficient and that the importance of fibre in our diets goes far beyond simply ensuring regularity in the gut. There are many good fibre based supplements on the market including Complete Fiber Cleanse which contains a comprehensive blend of both soluble and insoluble fibres together with green foods such as spirulina and chlorella to alkalise and detoxify the gut in a probiotic base to cleanse the gut, aid in the removal of pathogenic micro-organisms in the gut and to soothe the irritated linings of the whole of the gastrointestinal tract. Complete Fiber Cleanse also contains soluble fibres which as mentioned earlier have numerous other benefits. Use either as a supplement for added fibre or every three months as a comprehensive gut cleanser.