Most people who pride themselves on knowing their macros from their micros and their chia from their flax will go on about the importance of protein, fats and antioxidants.
But who really talks about fibre, ever? The problem is, we’re getting much less fibre than we need daily and we’re flatulent, constipated and bloated as a result. Plus, it’s having a devastating impact on our health long term.
What is a fibre gap?
A fibre gap is basically the difference between how much fibre we need and how much we actually get – and, according to the latest evidence, most of us are stuck in one.
In fact, while adults need about 30 grams of fibre a day, the average woman is only getting 21.1 grams, according to the latest National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey.
Short term signs you’re stuck in a fibre gap:
Long term risks of not enough fibre:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Colon/bowel cancer
Why do we need fibre?
If you’re trying to lose weight and only focusing on fat and protein, think again. ‘Fibre can help with fat management because it binds with fats and helps get rid of them in the body,’ says registered Nutritionist Melanie Bulger.
It can also add bulk to your stools which helps food travel through the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract quicker and that, says Bulger, is associated not only with helping keep a stable weight, avoiding constipation, bloating and flatulence but also with a decreased risk of bowel cancer because ‘the longer food is hanging around your GI tract, the higher your risk.’
Types of fibre and how to get enough:
Soluble fibre found in oats, brown rice and wholemeal bread dissolves in the digestive tract and is important in helping lower cholesterol and moderating blood sugar levels. That’s how eating enough fibre can help protect us against the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Insoluble fibre is the type that moves through the digestive tract without dissolving and is found in beans, lentils and pulses – all great for preventing constipation.
Another type known as prebiotic fibre is responsible for feeding the good bacteria in your gut – also known as your gut microbiome.
‘Your gut is linked to so many conditions in your body – in fact some 60 per cent of your immune system is based in your gut and it’s also where most of the feel-good hormone serotonin is made so frequent infections and low mood may indeed be a problem of not getting enough fermentable fibre,’ says Bulger.
‘A healthy gut microbiome is also important to your body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients such as calcium and helps produce vitamins B and K,’ she explains.
That’s why keeping your microbiome fed with natural prebiotics is essential to overall health. Prebiotic fibre is like fertilizer for your gut bacteria, encouraging its numbers to grow’.
Prebiotics: a fertiliser for your gut bacteria
For years, when people think of fibre they think of oats, bran, pulses, beans and lentils – which are all essential sources of soluble and insoluble fibre.
But prebiotic fibre on the other hand (sometimes called fermentable fibre) is also essential because it feeds the healthy probiotic bugs in your gut.
‘It’s essential because our modern high fat, sugar and processed diets as well as sweeteners and medications such as antibiotics deplete the good bacteria in our guts,’ says Bulger.
‘Around 5 grams a day of your 30 gram fibre allowance should come from prebiotic fibre,’ she says.
Natural sources of prebiotic fibre include:
- Raw leeks
- Raw onions
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Raw garlic
- Chicory root powder
- Cooked onions
- Raw asparagus
- Wholewheat flour
‘The list above is foods with high levels of prebiotics, Bulger asserts. ‘But all vegetables pack a punch in prebiotic fibre, especially if you aim to eat lots of different colours,’ Bulger asserts.
What’s causing YOUR fibre gap?
Our highly processed diets – recent research has linked our ultra-processed diets to early death and a host of other serious health issues and one of the reasons eating this way is so seriously risky is not only because of the high sugar, fat and salt levels in processed foods.
It’s also because of the serious lack of fibre. ‘Eating more processed foods simply means people are eating less of the fresh and wholesome foods such as grains, vegetables, pulses and fruits from which people would get their essential fibre,’ says Bulger. ‘This is probably the biggest health issue facing us today.’
The gluten free trend
‘In the last ten years, it has almost become as though eating gluten free is a healthy way to eat,’ says Bulger. ‘But going gluten-free is for people who have coeliac disease which is a serious condition in which the body cannot tolerate gluten.
For the rest of us, cutting out gluten-containing foods such as wholemeal bread and pasta can mean we miss out on a lot of our essential fibre.’
Keto and other high protein diets
Ketogenic, Atkins and other diets that cut out all complex carbohydrates (many limit nutrient-rich simple carbohydrates such as fruit too) in favour of protein and fat can mean much less fibre in the diet, resulting in constipation and bloating.
‘Such diets are also bad for your microbiome too, as the healthy bacteria in your gut needs fibre to function.’
The popular rise in juice-fasting diets has also contributed to our fibre gap.
While drinking a fresh vegetable juice (perhaps with a little fruit added) can be a great way of getting nutrients into your diet, programmes focusing on drinking only fruit and vegetable juices for days at a time remove a lot of the fibre from the fruits and vegetables, and leave you with a lot of sugar. Not a good mix if it’s all you’re eating for days.
What does a day’s worth of eating enough fibre look like?
It’s not that difficult to get all your fibre in a day. If you’re wondering, here’s an example of a day’s eating that delivers healthy fibre levels designed by Melanie Bulger.
- Breakfast: Two slices toasted wholemeal bread with one sliced banana – 1.4g fibre + Small fruit smoothie – 1.5g fibre
- Lunch: Baked jacket potato with skin – 2.6g fibre + 200g reduced sugar, reduced salt baked beans in tomato sauce – 9.8g fibre
- Afternoon tea: Apple – 1.2g fibre
- Dinner: Mixed vegetable tomato-based curry cooked with onion and spices – 3.3g fibre + 100g wholegrain rice – add 2.8g fibre
- Dessert: Plain yoghurt with fruit – 0.4g fibre
- Snacks: A handful of nuts can have up to 3g of fibre
This article originally appeared on Healthista and is republished here with permission.