You may have heard a lot recently about gut health and how fibre can lead to a happy gut. But is this just a new fad or is it something we should be considering… this two-part blog is here to explain what fibre is and how it relates to gut health. Spoiler alert – it is not just an empty fad there is some great scientific evidence supporting the below!
What is fibre?
Fibre is part of the carbohydrate family and is the name given to the diverse range of compounds found in the cells walls of foods that come from plants. Dietary fibre is the edible parts of the plants that are resistant to digestion and therefore can be absorbed through the small intestine.
There are two main types of fibre; soluble fibre and insoluble fibre.
Soluble fibre dissolves in the water within your digestive system and include oats, fruit, and vegetables. Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water and passes through your gut without being broken down resulting in your food moving through your digestive system more easily, these include wholemeal bread, nuts, and seeds.
Fibre has many health benefits and there is new research currently being carried out to investigate its impact on gut health in more depth. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) recommend increasing your fibre intake to help with the following:
- To lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colorectal cancer.
- To treat or prevent constipation, make stools softer and easier to pass
- To help lower a high blood cholesterol level or high blood pressure.
The current Government guideline for fibre consumption is 30g each day. On average, UK adults are only consuming around 18g of fibre (60% of the recommended value) each day. If your current intake is below the Governments recommendation, then you may want to gradually increase this by eating foods that are high in fibre.
Foods rich in fibre:
- Starchy foods such as porridge, oats, wholegrain breads pasta and rice, potatoes with skin on
- Beans and pulses
- A variety of vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, carrots, and sweetcorn
- A variety of fruits such as banana, blackberries, and apples
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, chia seeds
My top tips to increase fibre intake:
- Increase your fruit and vegetable intake aiming towards five 80g portions a day. An easy way to do this is by adding fruit to your porridge, cereal or toast in the morning
- Aim for a variety of plant based foods for example add beans to your homemade soups or curries
- Leave the skin on your vegetables and potatoes, not only does this make vegetable preparation easier, it helps towards your fibre intake
- Keep hydrated; remember to drink the recommended 6-8 cups of water each day to help the fibre do its job
However, don’t panic and start to add copious of fibre in your diet all at once, it is best to let your gut adjust by gradually increasing fibre in your diet. For example, if you currently don’t have a lot of fruit and vegetables maybe add one extra portion a day for a week a or two and see how you feel from there. If you don’t have any wholegrain carbohydrates, then maybe make a switch to the bread at first and then gradually switch your pasta, rice etc.
So, how does this tie in with gut health?
Fibre is an essential nutrient for the normal functioning of the gut. Studies show that if we have an extra 7g fibre per day (if we are aiming for 30g / day) it can be associated with significant reduction in the risk of diseases such as reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and bowel cancer. Fibre can also help with digestion, the NHS state that around 40% of people in the UK have at least one digestive issue at one time, whether that be abdominal pain, heartburn, or indigestion. Please note, if these issues are quite common and do not clear up, then it is important to know when to seek medical advice and contact your GP.
There are some general tips to help with a healthier gut:
- Chewing your food well. Growing up many of us got told to chew our food a certain amount of times before swallowing but with busy lifestyles and ‘lunch on the go’ becoming more popular it is becoming harder to taking time out to eat slowly. Digestion starts in the mouth and, so it is important to be mindful whilst chewing.
- Exercising regularly can help with many things not just gut health but maybe something you want to consider especially if you suffer with constipation. Studies show that exercise can also help with having a good night sleep as well as decreasing stress levels which are both important when it comes to gut health.
- Drinking alcohol and caffeine in moderation and if you are a smoker, stopping or cutting down can have a positive impact on your gut and its bacteria.
- Avoid tight clothing, skinny jeans, and tight high waisted yoga leggings maybe key items in our wardrobes however, they can aggravate your gut with the added external pressure.
- Fermented foods and probiotics are great for the gut, there is more to come on this in next weeks blog! But for now, remember when it comes to fibre and gut health, a varied, balanced diet is key!
Please get in touch with any questions
British Dietetic Association – https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/fibrefoodfactsheet.pdf
NHS Website – https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/the-truth-about-carbs.aspx
SACN Report on Carbohydrates and Health – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-carbohydrates-and-health-report