Doctors and dietitians tell us we should be eating more fibre, especially if we want to lose weight, but why is it so important? Fibre is actually a carbohydrate but because it isn’t digested by the body it has no impact on your blood sugar and is considered non-glycaemic (0 on the glycaemic index). Fibre comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. As the names suggest soluble fibre dissolves in water and insoluble fibre doesn’t. Soluble fibre attracts water and forms a gel in your intestines, which slows digestion and food’s passage through the digestive system. This means that your stomach takes longer to empty and you feel full. This also means that you absorb carbohydrates at a slower rate which can lead to better blood glucose management. Soluble fibre is found in plant cell walls, which means it’s found in all plant based foods, such as oats, fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds.
Insoluble fibre does not soak up water, and passes through your gut practically untouched. This helps to speed up the passage of waste through your gut, acting like a laxative. Insoluble fibre is found in wholemeal bread, high fibre cereals such as bran flakes and wheat biscuits, in some fruits and fibrous vegetables such as broccoli and celery.
Fibre is particularly useful in that it supports the good bacteria in your gut. Good bacteria feed off fibre and produce fatty acids which have been linked to lowering inflammation. Short-term inflammation is a good thing because it helps you to deal with infection and disease but chronic inflammation is linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancers. The benefits of a healthier balance of good and bad gut bacteria is still being investigated but there currently is a trial involving transplanting good gut bacteria into people with obesity to see if this can promote weight loss.
Just a word of warning. If you suddenly increase your fibre intake, especially if your diet was previously very low in fibre you can experience gas, cramps and diarrhoea. It is better if you increase your intake gradually so your body can adapt to the change. When you increase your fibre intake it is important to increase the amount of water you drink too. If you fail to do this, you could find that you have a problem with constipation or dehydration. There is such a thing as too much fibre; a healthy amount is 25g for women and 38g for men.
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