Dietary fibre: why we need it and how much is optimal every day?
You probably hear contradictory information when it comes to fibre. On the one hand you see nutritionists talking about the importance of fibre. At the same time, you can hear other nutritionists dissing fibre as something that can rob your body of zinc and other minerals. Where is the balanced view and what should you be doing? Is fibre important for your body? How much do you need each day?
Fibre is found in plant foods and helps your body in several ways. Fibre absorbs water and makes stool softer and bulkier, which helps speed up the digestion of food through the digestive system. Fibre and fluids go hand-in-hand and that is where the problem and debate over fibre begins.
Since so many symptoms and conditions have roots in digestion and gut health, optimal detoxification is the key. Becoming constipated impacts several systems and their function. Supporting frequent elimination with fibre and fluids can be very supportive to overall health.
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What do we need to consider when it comes to fibre?
1. The amount of fibre that each person needs can vary depending on the health of the digestive system, present symptoms, and whether the person has an active or sedentary lifestyle. Fibre should be the place to begin to improve elimination rather than taking any form of laxative, however safe they are described by anyone. You can do well with 20- 50 grams of fibre a day, based on individual needs.
2. There are several kinds of fibre, and this can help when supporting different people with different needs. Insoluble fibre does not hold water. It does speed up digestion if there is adequate water intake to help move it through the gastrointestinal tract. If you do have any digestive symptoms including pain or discomfort, then insoluble fibre can irritate the lining. If you do not have challenges like IBS, then that mild irritation to your gut can help to increase growth of beneficial bacteria.
Fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, barley, rye, and oats can all be wonderful sources of insoluble fibre.
3. Soluble fibre holds water which can be gentler on digestion if you do struggle with gut sensitivity. It can dissolve in water or hold water and love through your gastrointestinal tract. It can also help to soothe the gut when it is inflamed. While there is controversy around using psyllium, with concerns that is robs your body of zinc, this is only the case if you overuse. Generally, if it used therapeutically, in small doses, it can be calm and gentle on digestion.
You can get soluble fibre from oats, okra, lentils, vegetables, orange peels, and psyllium husk. Soaked prunes are also wonderful as a soluble fibre as they turn into a gel and soften stool. This can be helpful if you do not have challenges with insulin or blood sugar.
4. Pectin is also a type of fibre which is found in apples, citrus fruits, legumes, and nuts. Stewing apples helps to release the pectin and is a great gut healing and soothing food. One of the ways is to stew apples without any sugar, chill them, and consume them chilled as a gentle form of fibre.
5. Beta glucans is a form of fibre found in oats, rye, and barley. Beta glucans becomes a gel when cooked and soaks up water to help speed up transit time. If you are sensitive to gluten, make sure that you find a certified gluten free rolled oats. Beta glucans helps to lower LDL levels and postprandial blood glucose. Other forms of fibre are inulin which is found in chicory. You can use chicory powder as a coffee replacement and help your body with a form of fibre that feeds beneficial bacteria.
6. Resistant starch is a form of fibre that cannot be digested easily. Foods containing resistant starch move through your system and are inaccessible to enzyme attack. Therefore, they reach the colon undigested and feed the bacteria in the colon. Resistant starch is formed when starch containing foods are cooked and the cooled. They include green plantains, oats, rice, and potatoes. It is only when they are cooled that they resist impact on your blood sugar.
How can you include fibre into your daily diet?
1. The first way is to increase fibre is to just increase the number of cups of fruits and vegetables that you eat in a day. If you are eating two to three cups a day, just increase that to four or five. The increase in fibre from fruits and vegetables are a great way to boost fibre and antioxidants. Always be conscious of drinking plenty of fluids that are non-caffeinated.
2. Soak one teaspoon of psyllium husk powder in hot water. Allow it to infuse and soak for two hours. Soaking it helps to increase digestibility of it so that it does not rob your body of minerals. You can also do the same with flax seed powder, which contains lignans. Always remember that fibre is highly absorbent. If you don’t drink enough water, it will end up making you more constipated than you already are.
3. Raisins and prunes are the oldest known sources of increasing fibre. If you do not have any issues with your blood sugar, soak two prunes or 7-8 black raisins. Raisins were my ancestral remedies even for constipation in babies! Soak them in hot water and then consume them with the water.
Remember, fibre and fluid go hand-in-hand. (Image credit: Pexels)
4. Consider having more whole grains. Brown rice can be a great source of fibre when combined with humble lentils and vegetables. Fibre does not need to be in the form of smoothies or drinks. It can just be the traditional Indian meal with all the components on your plate.
The main thing to always remember when it comes to fibre is that fibre and fluid go hand-in-hand. If you increase any form of fibre, immediately increase fluid intake. Always begin with more gentle fibre and then start to widen your variety as your digestion adjusts to it. Do not overdo fibre to the point where it does deplete zinc and key minerals.