Let’s be real – fibre isn’t the sexiest subject. Although it’s a complex carbohydrate with many benefits to the human body, fibre is still most often associated with maintaining regular bowel movements. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that it isn’t typically a hot topic of conversation in the same way that the latest superfoods often are.
This article, however, just may change all of that. Today we’ll explain why fibre is far more important to our health and wellbeing than we’ve ever realized.
What Is Fibre?
Fibre is a unique, complex carbohydrate found in plant-based foods. It plays a special role in our digestive system because it is unable to be broken down in the small intestine, which means that it remains intact all the way through to the large intestine where it delivers most of its benefits.
This unique property means that fibre has earned its reputation for easing digestion and preventing constipation – The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) explains “fibre bulks up stools, makes stools softer and easier to pass and makes waste move through the digestive tract more quickly” – but it also has some incredible properties that are just being discovered.
Fibre’s ability to bypass the small intestine and head straight for the colon also imbues it with beneficial probiotic properties, which are extremely helpful in boosting beneficial gut bacteria. Some studies even indicate that fibre may be more crucial to supporting healthy gut flora than probiotics themselves.
The BNF explains, “Research has increasingly shown how important the bacteria in our gut may be to our health, and it has been suggested that a fibre rich diet can help increase the good bacteria in the gut. Some fibre types provide a food source for ‘friendly’ gut bacteria helping them to increase and produce substances which are thought to be protective such as short-chain fatty acids.”
Scientific American also shares some proven research about how fibre affects the gut – and says that while probiotics get more attention, fibre may be the unsung hero when it comes to gut health. “Fiber has long been linked to better health, but new research shows how the gut microbiota might play a role in this pattern. One investigation discovered that adding more fiber to the diet can trigger a shift from a microbial profile linked to obesity to one correlated with a leaner physique. Another recent study shows that when microbes are starved of fiber, they can start to feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, possibly triggering inflammation and disease.”
Healthy gut bacteria is crucial to maintaining a healthy mind and healthy body, so when you eat enough good-quality fibre you’re not only making your trips to the bathroom a little more pleasant, you’re also doing your gut health a huge favour, too.
To take advantage of these health benefits, nutritional recommendations suggest that the average adult make sure to eat 30g of fibre each day. In our next article, we’ll explore sources of fibre-rich foods, and how to tell if you’re getting enough.