Why Is Fibre Important? What Are The Health Benefits?

Why Is Fibre Important What Are The Health Benefits

What is fibre?

So let’s start with what fibre actually is. Fibre (or roughage) is an essential part of our diet that can be found only in plants. 

Other foods like meat and dairy cannot provide your body with dietary fibre.

Why is fibre so important?

Foods high in fibre play a key role in maintaining a healthy digestive system.  The main purpose of dietary fibre is to help your digestive system work properly.

So it is important to consume the right amount of dietary fibre in your diet to ensure bowel regularity.

Health Benefits Of Fibre

Cut Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk

It’s a well-established fact. A recent analysis of 19 studies, for example, found that people who ate the most fiber—more than 26 grams a day—lowered their odds of the disease by 18 percent. Compared to those who consumed the least (less than 19 grams daily).

The researchers believe that it’s fiber’s one-two punch of keeping blood sugar levels steady and keeping you at a healthy weight that may help stave off the development of diabetes.

Reduced Constipation

Dietary fiber, including fiber added to foods, can help reduce constipation by adding bulk to the stool.

Bulky feces move through the gut faster, resulting in an increased stool weight and improved regularity.

Stool consistency, stool weight and frequency of defecation are indicators of colonic function.

Increased bulking and decreased transit time are considered as the most widely known beneficial effects of dietary fibers in general.

Different kinds of dietary fiber can have different bulking capacities, depending on the underlying mechanism.

Poorly fermented fibers add bulk and, in some cases, add bulk by increasing water binding. Fermentable dietary fibers provide a bulking effect mainly due to increased bacterial mass.

Lower Your Odds of Heart Disease

For every 7 grams of fiber eaten daily, your risk of heart disease drops by 9 percent found a review of 22 studies published in the BMJ.

That’s partly due to fiber’s ability to sop up excess cholesterol in your system and ferry it out before it can clog your arteries.

Increased Insulin Sensitivity

Resistant starch from foods as well as isolated from high amylase corn has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. 

Researchers are suggesting that fermentation in the large intestine may be contributing to this benefit.

As the short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) produced by the fermentation of certain fibers triggers the production of hormones related to insulin sensitivity and elicits shifts in metabolism within the intestinal tract by up-regulating the production of hormones important to lipid and carbohydrate metabolism.

Reduce Your Risk of Certain Cancers

Every 10 grams of fiber you eat is associated with a 10 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer and a 5 percent fall in breast cancer risk, says a study published in the Annals of Oncology.

In addition to the anti-cancer effects of fiber, the foods that contain it—like veggies and fruits—are also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that could further reduce your odds, notes Sheth.

Improved Regularity

Regularity can be defined as the regular (eg, daily) elimination of bulky/soft/easy-to-pass stools and can be assessed by determining both stool output (assessed as grams of stool per day or per week) and stool water content (%).

Insoluble fiber can improve regularity by stimulating the large bowel to increase secretion of water and mucous while soluble gel-forming fibers increase the water-holding capacity of stool.

Both fibers increase stool water content and result in bulky/soft stools that are easy to pass.

While consuming the recommended daily intake of fiber is associated with numerous health benefits, no single fiber provides all benefits. A variety of fibers are needed every day for the body to function well.

How much fibre should I eat every day?

A rough estimate of the amount you need is about 18g a day, though 16 – 24g is a healthy range and individual requirements vary.Ideally you should aim to open your bowels at least once a day and not have to strain when you go to the loo.

One example of what you’d need to equal about 18g is a bowl of bran cereal for breakfast, a wholemeal sandwich with a bowl of salad for lunch, and five portions of fruit and vegetables.

You need to eat a balance of insoluble an soluble fibre types.

Insoluble fibre is the type that’s best at alleviating constipation as it can soak up around fifteen times it’s own weight in water.

This increases the bulk of stools, which in turn stimulates gut contractions and keeps the bowels moving regularly.

Foods richest in insoluble fibre are the fibrous types like wholemeal bread, brown rice and bran cereals.

Soluble fibre helps food move along the gut too, but it also lowers cholesterol by binding to it in the gut. It doesn’t hold as much water as insoluble fibre, but it dissolves in the gut forming a viscous gel.

This gel slows down the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream, which can help keep energy levels steady.

Too much soluble fibre can sometimes be a problem though, as it is fermented by bacteria to produce gas.

If you are prone to wind or an irritable bowel, eat your five a day fruit and vegetables – but no more – and avoid beans and pulses.

How To Increase Daily Fiber Intake

If you’re not eating enough fiber at the moment, have no fear, as there are many delicious high-fiber foods to choose from.

Start with one meal, and swap in a high-fiber source—say, brown rice for white rice.

Then, start increasing your vegetable intake, one meal at a time, until you’re at 4-5 servings per day. Slow and steady is the key; otherwise, you may suffer cramps, excessive bloating, and gas.

5 Signs You Are Not Eating Enough Fiber

Your cholesterol is high

Yes, really. According to research, consuming enough fiber may help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by improving cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and reducing inflammation (we’ll touch on that in a bit).

“Soluble fiber acts like a sponge and absorbs cholesterol in the small intestine and passes it through the digestive tract as waste,” explains Hass.

Moreover, soluble fiber in the large intestine produces short chain fatty acids that help with preventing cholesterol synthesis (production) in the liver.

If you suspect or know that you have high cholesterol, consider upping your fiber intake. And, of course, consult a professional.

You’re gaining weight

Why does one slice of whole wheat bread feel more “satisfying” than two slices of white bread? The reason is fiber, which is removed with the outer coating of the grain during the milling process of white bread.

Whole wheat bread, on the other hand, contains fiber-dense bran and wheat germ, which provide a more constant source of energy.

As a result, you feel full faster and longer. Other fiber-rich foods such as brown rice and legumes have the same satiating effect, making it less likely that you would indulge in impulsive snacking.

The happy result: you don’t gain weight! A review of several studies linking high fiber intake with weight loss, published in the Nutrition Review.

Concluded that an increase in either soluble or insoluble fiber intake increases postmeal satiety and decreases subsequent hunger.

So, if lately, the scales have been moving up, it might be time to up your fiber intake.

You have inflammation

If you’re experiencing inflammation, you might suspect that you’re not drinking enough water. One likely possibility, though, is that you’re not getting enough fiber.

“A low-fiber diet means [that] you aren’t nourishing the “good” bacteria and other microbes in your large intestine, which can throw your gut microbiota out of whack.

A healthy, diverse, balanced gut microbiota is important for good health, in part because it can help prevent chronic inflammation,” Dennett explains.

“Most of our immune system cells live in our intestinal walls.

So when our gut microbiota is unhealthy or unbalanced, there’s a better chance that our immune system will unnecessarily unleash inflammation on the body.”

To sum it up, not eating enough fiber could potentially lead to not feeding the good bacteria in your gut. When this happens your body may become inflamed.

While this may not seem like a big deal, chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. So it’s ideal that we feed our good bacteria (by eating fiber, for example).

You feel hungry. A lot

For the same reason that fiber makes you feel full, lack of it makes you feel hungry. This does not help if you are trying to control your weight.

The most common culprits here are foods made with plain white flour, which has been stripped of most of its fiber.

So, white rice, pancakes, pasta—notice how you tend to eat more of these as compared to whole wheat versions.

If those hunger pangs have been hitting too soon after a “meal,” it is time to turn to fiber-rich foods!

You’re moving slow

Perhaps one of the surest signs that you need more fiber is trouble with bowel movement. If chronic constipation is an issue, more fiber is in order.

Particularly insoluble fiber which holds on to water and helps form softer, bulkier stools to regulate bowel movement.

According to experts at The Harvard School of Medical Health, “the fiber from wheat bran and oat bran seems to be more effective in relief from constipation than similar amounts of fiber from fruits and vegetables.”

They add a cautionary note—don’t up your fiber intake suddenly. Gradual increase is best.

Is there a down-side? Can you have too much dietary fibre?

Well, yes you can… First, some advice for you if you want to add more fibre to your diet…  Increase fibre-rich foods gradually, because a sudden large addition of fibre into your diet can cause stomach cramps and excessive, often painful, wind. 

Your intestine will adapt in time.

And, too much dietary fibre can interfere with the absorption of minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium from foods. 

This is not often a problem because high-fibre foods usually contain plenty of these minerals, and vegetarians on very high fibre diets tend to be healthy, but it can cause problems when the overall diet quality is poor. 

If you are taking fibre supplements, be careful and only use them occasionally.

It’s important to always make sure that you keep yourself well hydrated in relation to your fibre consumption, because fibre can dehydrate you a little and become sluggish in your system.

So we can see that dietary fibre has lots of plus-features, but it can have a few minuses too.  Our health depends on eating a balanced diet- and it can sometimes be a bit tricky to work out all the pluses and minuses of all the nutrients.

Excellent Sources Of Fiber

  • Soluble Fiber: Oats, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and some fruits and vegetables
  • Insoluble Fiber: Whole-grains such as wheat and popcorn, fruits and vegetables (with peels)

When you increase your fiber intake, you should increase your fluid intake, too.

Without adequate fluids, fiber can actually increase constipation and impede digestion.

The Best High-Fiber Foods

Note: The amount of fiber in these foods can vary slightly between the raw and cooked versions.

1. Split Peas

Fiber: 16.3 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Spinach and Yellow Split Pea Soup
A staple in Indian cooking, split peas form a terrific, protein-rich base for soups, stews, and dhals. This South Asian recipe is the best kind of comfort food: healthy, satisfying, and super filling.

2. Lentils

Fiber: 15.6 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Lentil Quinoa Burgers with Sautéed Mushrooms
Lentils are kitchen all-stars—they take less time to cook and are more versatile than many other legumes. This recipe takes advantage of their slightly meatier taste and turns them into a juicy patty that’s held together with lemon juice, cilantro, and walnuts.

3. Black Beans

Fiber: 15 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
Sweet potato pairs perfectly with the smokiness of chipotle peppers and adds even more fiber to this hearty bean dish. Loaded with complex carbs and protein, this cold-weather stew makes a perfect post-workout meal.

4. Lima Beans

Fiber: 13.2 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Leek and Lima Bean Soup with Bacon
Lima beans might sound unappetizing, but when cooked in bacon fat, paired with leeks, puréed into a soup, and topped with sour cream, they’re pretty darn delicious.

5. Artichokes

Fiber: 10.3 grams per medium vegetable, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Roasted Artichokes for Two
Packing more fiber per serving than any other vegetable, artichokes are curiously underused in most people’s kitchens (perhaps because they look a bit… prickly). Get creative and try this simple recipe with lime, garlic, and black pepper.

6. Peas

Fiber: 8.8 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Scallops on Minted Pea Purée with Prosciutto
Puréeing veggies is a great way to squeeze extra nutrients into any meal—this recipe comes together lightning-fast and is filled with protein, omega-3s, and, of course, fiber.

7. Broccoli

Fiber: 5.1 grams per cup, boiled.
Go-To Recipe: Paleo Broccoli Fritters
This caveman-friendly dish is pretty simple. To make these fritters, just combine onion, garlic, broccoli, eggs, and almond meal. Once they hit the table, you’ll be surprised how much broccoli gets finished in one sitting.

8. Brussels Sprouts

Fiber: 4.1 grams per cup, boiled.
Go-To Recipe: Hoisin Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Try this Asian twist on the old standard—this meal carries tones of ginger, sesame, and peanut that will keep you coming back for seconds (and maybe thirds).

9. Raspberries

Fiber: 8 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Raspberry, Coconut, and Oat Macaroons
Raspberries aren’t a hard sell—they’re basically nature’s candy. With the help of coconut, oatmeal, and vanilla, they make a relatively healthy dessert that pleases any palate.

10. Blackberries

Fiber: 7.6 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Blackberry Lemon Salad
Successfully mixing sweet and savory isn’t for the faint of heart, but this salad makes use of blackberries, lemon, scallions, and dill to great effect.

11. Avocados

Fiber: 6.7 grams per half, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Chicken, Black Bean, Avocado and Radish Salad
Few foods deserve the title of “superfood” more than the avocado, which is jam-packed with vitamins, fiber, and healthy fats. Pile it on top of this low-carb, Mexican-inspired salad to add some creamy goodness.

12. Pears

Fiber: 5.5 grams per medium fruit, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Herb-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Pears
This recipe is a simple and inexpensive way to experiment with an unusual flavor combination. Pork works well with sweeter flavors, and the high sugar content of pears makes them easy to caramelize.

13. Bran Flakes

Fiber: 7 grams per cup, raw.
Go-To Recipe: Vanilla, Honey, and Yogurt Smoothie with Bran Flakes
Short on time? Whip up a nutritious smoothie and take breakfast to go. This shake is a healthy and delicious way to get plenty of fiber and a hefty amount of protein, all in one glass.

14. Whole-Wheat Pasta

Fiber: 6.3 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Avocado Pesto Pasta with Peas and Spinach
With the right sauce, whole-wheat pasta is indistinguishable from its high G.I., white-flour cousin. Mix in avocado to add a wonderful creaminess to your pasta without using dairy.

15. Pearled barley

Fiber: 6 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Pearl Barley Risotto with Roasted Squash, Red Peppers, and Rocket
It’s not just for making beer—barley is a chewy, nutritious grain that contains more fiber than oatmeal and brown rice. It can be used in soup, salad, or tea, but try it out in this tasty risotto with seasonal fall vegetables.

16. Oatmeal

Fiber: 4 grams per cup, cooked.
Go-To Recipe: Carrot Cake Oatmeal
With just one tablespoon of maple syrup per serving, this breakfast is a guilt-free way to indulge in the morning. Plus, it’s packed with fiber-friendly oats, carrots, and coconut.

Sneaky Tips to Add More Fiber to Any Meal

  • Add flaxseed meal to oats, smoothies, yogurt, and baked goods—you can even try breading chicken or fish with it. A two-tablespoon serving contains 3.8 grams of fiber and a dose of omega-3 fatty acids to boot.
  • Chia seeds have a whopping 5.5 grams of fiber per tablespoon. When they meet with water, they form a goopy gel that is great for thickening smoothies, making healthy puddings, or replacing eggs in cakes and cookies.
  • While spinach and carrots aren’t as high in fiber as the veggies mentioned above, they can easily be sliced or grated and snuck into many dishes without much hassle: Try adding some to banana bread, shakes, eggs, or even a homemade pizza base.
  • Food processors are fiber’s best friend. Purée some cooked vegetables and add them to sauces and stews, or swap out rice for chopped-up cauliflower.

Summary

Dietary fiber has various health benefits.

Not only does it feed your gut bacteria, fermentable fiber also forms short-chain fatty acids, which nourish the colon wall.

Additionally, viscous, soluble fiber may reduce your appetite, lower cholesterol levels and decrease the rise in blood sugar after high-carb meals.

If you are aiming for a healthy lifestyle, you should make sure to get a variety of fiber from whole fruits, vegetables and grains.