We’ve all heard that people should eat more fibre. But why? What does it do and why do I need it? They say that Canadians only get half of the fibre they need, read on to find out how to make sure you’re above the curve when it comes to fibre intake.
There are two kinds of fibre out there, both are important for our health, but for different reasons (but some are the same). Adults need approx. 30g fibre daily, so if you want to meet your goal, you have to be intentional about it.
Disclaimer – there will be a fair bit of poop-talk, so consider yourself warned!
A massive caveat
This is what we think of a bulk, or roughage. This fibre helps move waste through your body, which keeps you regular. The intestines mobility is stimulated by a few things (movement, i.e. exercise is one), including stretch, so if there is a lot in there, it will be stimulated to move, thereby expelling waste (i.e. poop).
Insoluble fibre doesn’t get digested well, so it provides that bulk that is beneficial for intestinal mobility. They also absorb water when in the intestine, further expanding and providing bulk. This also keeps stools soft, which makes them easier to pass. Eating enough fibre can also help you feel fuller at meals, which may help you eat less.
Food sources of insoluble fibre are vegetables, fruit (if eaten with skin on where appropriate), whole grains (the insoluble fibre is in the coating), nuts, and legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils).
This type of fibre works much more throughout the body, as it gets absorbed into the blood, but not entirely (more on that later). When you eat soluble fibre, as it is getting digested in your stomach, it slows digestion down a little, which in turn, helps moderate blood sugar levels. This is great for those with diabetes, but for those that don’t have diabetes, it can help balance your energy. When digested and absorbed into the blood, it binds with cholesterol that is floating around in your blood (just waiting to cause blockages!), which helps your body get rid of it. Yay for lowering cholesterol!
The part of the soluble fibre that does not get absorbed into the blood stays in the intestine in a sort of gel form. As this gel moves through the large intestine, it kind of cleans it up, by picking up any little bits and pieces left behind. This is great for those with diverticulosis, as it reduces the risk of infection, and provides bulk that is needed to move stool through, keeping you regular. This gel can also help form stools, if there is a propensity towards loose stools, and can soften hard stools by providing the fluid they need to soften. Food sources of soluble fibre is where it gets complicated. The best sources of soluble fibre are vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes – basically the same sources as insoluble fibre. On one hand, this is great, you can eat one food and get both kinds of fibre. On the other, it’s confusing, because how can a food have both a roughage-type component and a gel-type? It comes down to this: for the food sources of fibre, the insoluble part is (generally) the outside, where the soluble part is the inside. Vegetables are different, they have TONS of insoluble fibre, but less soluble, while fruit depends on eating the skin (i.e. apple, pear, etc.) for the insoluble fibre.
Oats are a great source of soluble fibre, so if you’re into oatmeal, that’s great! Beans (black, navy, etc) are great sources of soluble fibre, so cook with these as much as you can (and you’ll get a little insoluble through their skins too!).
Psyllium fibre is a great source of soluble fibre, the brand name for this is Metamucil (but no name brands are just as good!). If you’re struggling to eat the foods that have soluble fibre in them, but want the benefit, this might be a way to go. Follow the directions for the powder or capsules and see how you go.
A massive caveat
No matter which kind of fibre you’re eating, if you start increasing your fibre intake, you MUST increase your fluid intake along side. Since both kinds of fibre absorb water in your gut, you must have that water available for it to absorb. If there isn’t enough water available, your stool will turn hard, leading to constipation (NOT the point of this). Also, you need to ease your way in to increased fibre intake, don’t go from nothing to everything. Your body needs time to learn how to digest or pass it, so ramp it up bit by bit over days to weeks.
Reach out if you’re interested in increasing your fibre intake for all the health benefits it can have, as I can help you come up with a plan to get you to your goal.