What is Fibre and Why Do We Need It?
Dietary fibre is something that we need in order to stay healthy. However, you won’t find it in foods like meat, fish, or animal products. Instead, fibre is a plant-derived carbohydrate. There are also two different types of fibre: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre dissolves easily in water and breaks down into a gel-like substance in the colon. Insoluble fibre, however, doesn’t dissolve in water and instead remains intact, moving throughout the gastrointestinal tract.
Both soluble and insoluble fibre can be found in a variety of different foods. Soluble fibre can be found in things like barley, nuts, seeds, oat bran, beans, lentils, peas, as well as certain fruits and vegetables; while insoluble fibre is also found in vegetables as well as whole grains and wheat bran. The disappointing and unfortunate thing is that, according to many studies, most Western diets don’t contain nearly enough of the recommended amount of fibre – which is around 25 to 30 grams per day. Instead, the current dietary fibre intake for most people is only around 15 grams per day.
There are many benefits that fibre provides us with. While it doesn’t give us nutrients or provide our bodies with energy, it does help our digestive system and allows the body to remove harmful waste. Fibre is also bulky, which means it takes up more room in our stomachs and helps us feel full. The body is also slower at processing fibre through the digestive system. Thus, when you eat more fibre-rich foods, you’re less likely to want to consume foods that are high in calories or just overall bad for you (i.e. sugary foods!) and will also be left feeling fuller longer, which can benefit you if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Speaking of digestion, consuming dietary fibre also stimulates the digestive system, which can also help to prevent constipation. Fibre is also beneficial for a healthy and properly functioning colon. Consuming fibre may not only help prevent colon cancer, but it can also help prevent other types of cancer, too.
Did you know that fibre (soluble fibre, specifically) can also protect your heart? Soluble fibre works by attaching itself to particles of cholesterol and removing them from the body. When this occurs, your overall cholesterol levels are reduced and so is your risk of heart disease. If you’re worried about diabetes, soluble fibre is also something that can help. Because soluble fibre doesn’t absorb very well, this means that it also won’t cause your blood sugar to spike, which is when you are at risk of developing type II diabetes. On the other hand, if you’ve already been diagnosed with either type I or type II diabetes, then fibre can help keep it under control.
These are just some of the different ways in which increasing your fibre can keep you healthy.
It’s also important to know that there is such a thing as getting too much fibre. Because 95% of the population doesn’t ingest close to half the recommended amount, this isn’t usually something that anyone has to worry about. However, if you increase your fibre intake quickly, then it’s also a possibility that you could be getting too much at once. For these reasons, you also need to be aware of the symptoms that can develop as a result. These symptoms can include bloating, pain in the abdomen, flatulence, diarrhea or constipation, and weight gain. Individuals with Crohn’s disease may also develop an intestinal blockage. If you have an inability to pass gas or stool, or if you also experience a fever, nausea or vomiting, then you should see a doctor right away.
To counteract the effects of too much fibre, you should make sure you drink lots of water, avoid high-fibre foods for the time being as well as fibre-fortified foods, and engage in low-impact exercise such as walking. You should also avoid the use of fibre supplements. After some time has passed, you should be able to re-introduce fibre into your diet – but just make sure you do it slowly.