The lowdown on Dietary Fibre: not just for old people

When we think of detoxification, we often refer to the liver. But a major component of toxin elimination occurs in the bowel. Whilst eating a clean diet is important for well-being, ensuring the health of our large intestine and its optimal function is vital too.

Did you know that one of the main reasons colon cancer is so common is lack of dietary fibre? The Western world has a high incidence of this cancer due to the high consumption of animal products, refined carbohydrates and fats and low amounts of fibre. A typical low fibre diet looks like this:

·         Eating mainly meat/dairy every day

·         Take away foods: pizza, fish and chips, fried foods

·         Little water intake +/- more caffeine/alcohol intake

·         Lots of processed foods; think bread, frozen meals, packet foods, biscuits, pies, cakes, sugar.

·         Little or no intake of fruit and vegetables


What is fibre anyway?

Fibre is the indigestible portion of plant food that travels along the small intestine and is fermented by beneficial bacteria; which in turn assists the release of nutrients into the blood.  It also assists in the production of short chain fatty acids in the large intestine, which is the main food source for the epithelial cells that protect the internal colon lining.

There are 2 types of fibre:

·         Soluble: assists removal of LDL (harmful of “bad” cholesterol components). Examples of these include nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables with the skin on (kiwi fruit, pears, apples, cherries, grapes, carrots, potatoes.)

·         Insoluble: Keeps the bowel moving for optimal elimination. If you aren’t having a daily bowel motion, then you have a bowel that needs functional support. Examples of these include fruit and vegetables, flax seeds, psyllium husks, dried beans and peas.


Benefits of eating more fibre:

·         Prevent or reduce constipation. Fibre helps to improve the quality and frequency of bowel movements: so if you are straining on the toilet, or don’t have a bowel motion every day, you definitely need more fibre.

·         Assists in blood sugar control: for those with diabetes or a family history of it.

·         May protect against various cancers, particularly colon cancer.

·         Reduces gall stone formation

·         Provides food for beneficial bacteria in the large intestine. (Probiotics only supply the stomach.)

·         Decreases haemorrhoid and varicose vein formation: straining shuts off blood supply to the blood vessels below the waist.

·         Promotes weight loss: helps increase satiety so we eat less.

·         Prevents stomach ulcers

·         Assists with healthy cholesterol levels


How to increase your fibre intake:

Too much fibre can cause bloating and flatulence in those with IBS or sensitive tummies. If this is you, skip the supermarket bread products and opt for rice crackers, crispbread, sour dough or stone ground breads in small quantities. More than two slices of bread a day can contribute to constipation so watch your intake and keep it to a minimum.

It’s best to start slowly and use a balanced approach. Aim to eat a variety of different plant foods, rather than rely on fibre supplements. You need to drink a LOT of water (about 2-3 cups) when you take supplements, or you risk constipation!

There is NO fibre in animal products, so if you are eating a lot of these, then you need to have a ratio on your plate of meat to vegetables of 1:3. (That’s 1 part meat and 3 parts vegetables.)


What foods contain fibre?

Aim to eat at least 30 grams of fibre each day for healthy elimination. Here are some serving sizes to obtain 10 grams of fibre:

·         3 cups steamed vegetables

·         2 cups of cooked rolled oats

·         1 cup cooked chickpeas, lentils or green peas

·         100 g almonds or pistachios

·         6 prunes

·         2 large corn cobs

·         2 passion fruit

·         4 kiwi fruit

·         1 cup baked beans

·         1 cup steamed spinach

·         ½ cup barley or oat bran


Avoid getting too hung up on fibre; food shouldn’t be a cause of anxiety! Simply aim to eat 2-3 serves of fruit and 6-8 servings of vegetables daily and you are winning! (Remember to adequately hydrate too.)

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