Carbohydrates can be broken down into three categories: sugar, starch, and fibre. Of these, sugars are the easiest for the body to use for fuel, starch takes a little work but can also be broken down and used for fuel, but fibre is not broken down by the body or used as fuel. So why is it so important for our health?
Fibre is what keeps our digestion moving. There are two types of fibre. Soluble, which binds with water to create a gel-like substance (think of it like oatmeal), and insoluble, which is the “roughage” portion found mostly in skins and seeds of plants (think of it like celery).
Insoluble fibre’s most important role is to promote bowel regularity. It does this by providing bulk to the stool, which keeps waste moving through the digestive tract. Without it, digestion slows down, we reabsorb too much water from the stool, and we get constipated.
Regular bowel movements are essential for the elimination of toxins from the body. We should be having at least one fully evacuated, easy-to-pass bowel movement daily. Constipation causes autointoxication, where metabolites are reabsorbed from the colon back into the blood stream, leading to a build-up of harmful toxins in the body. Constipation can also lead to hemorrhoids, abdominal pain and damage to the bowel, and autointoxication can cause fatigue, hormonal imbalance, brain fog, and low mood.
Insoluble fibre is also important for keeping us full after eating because it takes up space in the digestive system. It curbs cravings and promotes feelings of satiety to help us maintain a healthy weight.
Soluble fibre, as the name suggests, dissolves in water and is becomes a gel-like substance in our digestive system. It is found in beans, seeds, lentils, oats, barley and some fruits and vegetables. Think of it like the sticky consistency of oatmeal: the gel-like matrix slows digestion to provide a variety of health benefits.
Weight management: Keeps us feeling full for longer to curb appetite, reduce sugar cravings, and prevent some fats from being absorbed.
Lowers cholesterol: Reduces the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from food and helps the body to eliminate cholesterol through the colon.
Stabilizes blood sugar: Slows down the speed at which we break down and absorb sugars, preventing a dramatic spike and crash of blood sugar, and instead slowly and evenly releasing sugars into the bloodstream. This reduces our risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, and also helps us maintain energy and mental clarity throughout the day.
Reduces heart disease risk: lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar and assisting with weight management contribute to reducing the risk of heart disease.
Promotes healthy gut flora: Acts as a food source (prebiotic) to healthy bacteria in the colon, helping to nourish a healthy gut environment.
Canadian guidelines recommend that women have 25g of fibre daily and men aim for 38g of fibre, but most people are getting less than half of their daily recommended intake. Part of the problem is a misconception of which foods contain the most fibre. The biggest misconceptions are with veggies and fruits: they are part of a healthy diet, but they don’t have as much fibre as we think they do! For example, one cup of spinach has 0.7g of fibre, and one apple has 3g of fibre. There is much more fibre found in seeds and skins of foods, for example 1 Tbsp of chia seeds has a whopping 5.5g of fibre.
Dr. Hilary’s Lifestyle Tips To Boost Fibre
Read nutrition labels: Under the “Carbohydrates” section, look for a breakdown of the amount of fibre and sugar per serving. Choose foods with high fibre and low sugar. You’ll notice that whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta contain much more fibre than their refined counterparts.
Swap out juices for smoothies: Even “healthy” vegetable and fruit juices contain little to no fibre, so they cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. Smoothies are a great way to include the fibrous parts of veggies and fruits, and you can add chia or flax for an even bigger boost of fibre.
Try something new: Buckwheat, bulgur, spelt and quinoa are healthy carb options that are very high in fibre. Look online for recipes to help you experiment with new foods.
Nutritional boosts: Add beans, lentils, chia and flax to as many meals as possible. Adding these foods to meals like salads, soups, and stir fries will give you a boost of not only fibre, but also other nutrients like zinc, potassium, and iron.
Supplementation: Adding a fibre supplement to your daily routine is a great way to get a fibre ‘boost’.
Stay hydrated: Always drink plenty of water with high fibre foods to promote healthy bowel habits. We should aim for at least 2 litres of water daily, and more if we’re physically active or in a warm climate.
Use a meal tracking tool: Many apps are available to help us calculate our daily fibre intake. You might be surprised by how little you’re actually getting each day! If you’re not getting enough, consider a fibre supplement to boost your daily intake.
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