In July last year, the government’s independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition published wide ranging new guidelines on diet and health. These included a recommendation that people should increase their fibre intake to around 30g a day, from the current UK average of just 18g. But what exactly is fibre, what does it do in our bodies, and why do we need it?
What is fibre?
Fibre comes from plant based foods, and is essentially the cellulose ‘wrapper’ in which plant nutrients are stored. You can only get fibre from plants, nuts, pulses and seeds and there is no fibre in meat, fish or dairy products.
Fibre comes in two types: soluble fibre, which is found in oats, barley and rye, root vegetables and fruits, and insoluble fibre, which is found in beans and pulses as well as fruit and vegetables. Soluble fibre can be digested by the guts, whereas insoluble fibre will simply pass through your system.
What does fibre do?
Fibre has no direct nutritional value. For example, bran, one of the most well known fibre sources, is nothing more than the outer casing of cereal grains. However, soluble fibre does feed the gut bacteria, encouraging a healthy microbiome, while insoluble fibre is an important bulking agent for your body’s waste.
Fibre has also been liked with a number of health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes, and even preventing certain cancers, including colorectal cancers.
Fibre also plays an important role in health digestion, performing many key functions in the digestive process:
- Hydration – soluble fibre carries water through the gut, preventing constipation from hard dry stools
- Feeding – soluble fibre feeds the gut bacteria
- Cleaning– insoluble fibre cleans the gut as it passes through keeping the gut wall healthy
- Packaging – insoluble fibre is essential to package our digestive waste in a way that makes it safe to pass
- Thickening – insoluble fibre makes the stools thicker and easier to pass, preventing diarrhoea
- Strengthening– insoluble fibre bulks out stools giving the gut muscles something to push against, keeping them strong and healthy
How to increase your fibre intake safely
Before you set out to achieve the new government target of 30g of fibre per day, there are two things you need to consider. Firstly, it is important to remember that diversity is as important as quantity. Different gut microbes feed on different types of fibre, so if you go heavy on one source of fibre, you risk upsetting the delicate balance in your large intestine. It’s much better to eat a mix of soluble and insoluble fibre, from a variety of sources, to encourage a healthy, balanced gut.
Secondly, you need to ease yourself into your new higher fibre routine. Remember, your gut microbes are ready and waiting to ferment and digest any soluble fibre you put in, so if you suddenly increase your intake, you could end up feeling bloated, with stomach cramps, and will almost certainly experience an altered bowel habit as either diarrhoea or constipation.
The best strategy is to gradually increase your fibre intake from a variety of sources, introducing them into all your meals and snacks through the day, rather than going fibre crazy with your main meal. This will give your digestive system time to adapt to small regular increases. It is also important to drink plenty of water as you increase your dietary fibre, as fibre will absorb water from your system.
There is lots of advice available online about the kind of foods you should eat to increase your fibre intake, and how you can incorporate these foods into your diet at different meals. The British Nutrition Foundationis a good place to start.
Kick off with a colonic
If you’re serious about starting a high fibre diet, then you should consider a colonic to give you a kick start. Colonics offer similar benefits to fibre in cleaning the gut, hydrating the body and exercising the muscles in the gut wall. A colonic can also help to rebalance the gut bacteria, clearing away any existing imbalance and creating a level playing field in which your new, fibre-fed good bacteria can thrive.
Talk to your local therapist today for a range of diet and lifestyle support as well as a kick start colonic. .