With much of the focus in many people’s diets going towards how many calories they’re consuming or whether they should use a low fat or low carb approach, not to mention IIFYM (if it fits your macros) one factor that often gets lost in the mix is that of dietary fibre. Fibre is an incredibly important nutrient in your diet because it’ll not only influence your health status, but also impact your bodyweight management efforts. If you want to maintain a healthy weight and avoid fat gain in the future, you need to be getting sufficient fiber into your daily picture. In my professional opinion fibre is the most underrated fat loss ingredient available to us all.
But what is fibre and how much do you really need each and everyday? Let’s get educated!
So what Is Dietary Fibre then?
Often called ‘roughage’, dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate that is found in plant foods that is indigestible in nature. Meaning, your body will not break it down and be able to use it for energy, like it would of other carbohydrates (be it starch or sugars). Foods that are as close to their natural state as possible (mother natures pharmacy) tend to have the greatest level of fibre while foods that have been refined tend to lack this potent health and wellness superstar. This is because much of the fibre is found in the skins of these plant foods and during the refining process, these skins are removed and thus, the fibre is lost with the skins. This is very bad news for us! :-(
There are different types of dietary fibre and you need them both!
There are two different and vitally important types; soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. For optimal health, you want to be eating a variety of both of these underrated superstars, daily!
Soluble fibre is a type of fibre that will dissolve readily in water and may also offer prebiotic properties. This means that it encourages the growth of the good bacteria that live inside the gut. These are needed for the proper breakdown of the foods you eat and for keeping your immune system strong. Those who are lacking this type of dietary fibre (most of the god damn western world), and therefore prebiotics, may come to find they are falling ill more often and aren’t experiencing as much energy as they’d like on a day to day basis, not to mention struggling with weight issues. This form of fibre can also be viscous (thick) forming fibre, meaning that as it dissolves in the water in your digestive tract, it forms a gel, which offers great health benefits!
In contrast to soluble fibre, you also then have insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre is a type of fibre that does not break down in the digestive tract (skeleton of the plant) and instead, passes through the body. It’s often what most people think of when they think of fibre as most have the idea that fibre increases bowel movements. It’s this type of fibre that is having this effect. Because this type of fibre does pass through the system undigested, it also does not impact your total calorie balance, so these grams of carbohydrates do not need to be included in your total daily calorie intake. As such, those with diets rich in insoluble fibre tend to experience greater ability to control their body weight (hello, have you all heard this before?). While insoluble fibre has a net calorie value of zero (since it is not absorbed), soluble fibre does contain calories just like any other gram of carbohydrate. So as I stated much earlier in this blog, in my professional opinion, dietary fibre is the most underrated weight management tool available to you all right know!
So what else does this fibre stuff do?
The benefits of fibre are unique to the type that you’re eating. When consuming soluble dietary fibre, because this fibre forms a gel in your body, it’s going to slow the passage of food through the stomach, increasing the duration that you feel satisfied after a meal. If you find that on your diet you’re hungry only an hour or two after eating, this could very well be due to the lack of fibre in your eating plan. Because this fibre slows the digestion process, it’s also going to do a great job at controlling blood sugar levels. When you eat carb-rich foods, these carbohydrates break down into simpler sugar molecules, which are then released into the bloodstream. The faster digestion is taking place, the faster these molecules will be released, potentially leading to a rapid spike in blood glucose levels. This can set you up for an increased risk factor for diabetes, not to mention a blood glucose crash, which comes shortly after this and will cause you to feel tired, lethargic, and just crappy. Since fibre slows down the release of this glucose into the blood stream, you won’t get these undesirable effects taking place. Finally, another key benefit of soluble fibre is that it can help lower total cholesterol levels in the body as well. The fibre, as it forms that gel, will bind with cholesterol particles in the body and then will transport them out before they have a chance to be absorbed, leading to high cholesterol numbers. So for those looking to improve their heart-health and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, eating enough soluble fibre is critical.
When it comes to the benefits insoluble fibre brings, as noted above, improved regularity is one of the biggest. Insoluble fibre will help to speed up the passage of stool from the body, reducing the chances that it sits inside your system and starts to become toxic, potentially increasing your risk factor for colon cancer. It also helps to make the stool softer, so can ease passage out of the body as well. Keeping your body regular can go a long way towards helping decrease digestive discomfort and is often used to treat those who are suffering from haemorrhoids or constipation. Finally, foods that are rich in insoluble fibre typically take more time to chew, so this can slow down the speed in which you eat, having positive weight loss benefits as well. The slower you are consuming your food, the easier it will be to recognise the satiety signals you body is sending you indicating that you’ve had enough.
Mother natures pharmacy! Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food!
Given all these powerful benefits, you can easily see why eating fibre is critical to your optimal health and wellbeing. So where can you find it? You’ll typically find both types of fibre in most high-fiber foods, so as long as you focus on getting a mix of fibre rich choices, you don’t need to worry specifically about looking at the two types separately. Generally speaking, the highest amounts of soluble fibre will be found in foods such as legumes, oats, barley, avocados, apples, pears, broccoli, carrots, nuts and seeds, along with root tubers like sweet potatoes.
Insoluble fibre, will be found in most whole grain foods (again, including oats and barley), legumes, nuts and seeds, lignans (such as flaxseeds), green beans, cauliflower, courgettes and celery, along with fruits such as grapes and tomatoes. If you focus on simply eating a diet right in wholesome grains, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with some nuts and seeds, you’ll find that you are right on tracking with getting your fibre requirements nailed.
How much each day?
The general recommendation is for women eating a 2000 calorie diet per day to aim for around 25 grams and men who eat slightly more, around 2500 calories per day, to take in 30 grams of fibre total. If you aren’t quite at these numbers, work on getting there slowly. What you don’t want to do is dramatically increase your fibre intake suddenly as doing so will likely lead you to experience a great deal of digestive strain, bloat, and yes, the dreaded stinky bottom, gas! Let your body adapt to the increased fibre consumption slowly by adding just 5 grams every 2-3 days until you reach your target.You don’t want to become the “social outcast” that nobody invite to their parties do you?
If your fibre intake gets too high, you may experience an increased level of gas and bloating and you may also struggle to absorb nutrients properly in the body as the fibre is causing them to be passed out prior to digestion. In addition to this, too much fibre can also cause dehydration as well since water is absorbed in the formation of gel and then passed out of the body, leaving you with less water left over for other necessary functions.