BY: DR. LYDIA THURTON
Let’s talk about an under-appreciated aspect of your diet. Fibre. There’s nothing glamorous about it. It’s defined as the indigestible part of plants that cleans our colon and does other amazing things that largely go unnoticed, until you are severely lacking.
Fibre is a gauge of how healthy your diet is. If you are getting adequate fibre it is unlikely you are eating processed and junk foods in large quantities. The minimum amount of fibre recommended is 25g per day. It can be hard to picture what that looks like. It’s the equivalent of about five apples or oranges. Fibre is only found in plant products –grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Meat and dairy are not sources. Your fibre comes from multiple foods so you will need to use a nutrition tracker like my fitness pal to keep a record of what you are getting daily. It’s good to set a baseline of what you are already eating before you make dietary changes.
Fibre is what helps you poop. But, fibre is not a laxative. When you are getting fibre from a variety of sources you are getting both insoluble and soluble fibre. I will explain the difference. Insoluble fibre does not hold water and speeds up bowel movements. It includes pits and seeds of berries, most seeds and skins on fruit. Soluble fibre holds water. The flesh of apples and beans, oatmeal and flax seeds contain the type of fibre that slows bowel movements. When you eat a balance, your bowel movements are neither too slow nor too fast. The consistency is easy to pass, brown in colour with no blood, undigested food or mucous. Google the Bristol Stool chart if you want help determining if your stool looks healthy. Watery loose stools need more soluble fibre. And “rabbit poops”, small chunky stools need more insoluble fibre.
Fibre is good for your heart. If you have high cholesterol it is absolutely critical that you consider your fibre intake. Your body rids itself of excess cholesterol by pumping it through the liver, into the gallbladder and finally into your digestive tract. Most gallstones are made of cholesterol. When cholesterol enters your intestine it gets trapped by fibre and you poop it out. If you are low in fibre the cholesterol sits in your large intestines and gets reabsorbed. Bummer. Your body really doesn’t want that. It’s like taking out the trash only to find it back in your house the next day!
Eating even half of the daily recommended dose of fibre can lower your blood pressure a couple of points. No, this isn’t a massive change. Not enough to come off of medication in most cases, but it’s good for you anyways, why wouldn’t you do it?
If you have diabetes or are gaining weight fibre is your friend. Most people gain weight when their blood sugar gets destabilized. A spike in sugar, creates a spike in insulin. When insulin is high it screams at your body to “make room for more fat!” Soluble fibre slows the rate at which sugar gets absorbed. It also signals a hormone called GLP-1. GLP-1 slows your digestion, makes you feel full, and makes you more sensitive to insulin so you don’t need as much to do the job.
While you can’t digest fibre, the bacteria in your colon can. If you’ve been reading my articles, you know how I feel about healthy gut bacteria. It’s darn important! So feed it with fibre. When bacteria digests fibre they release a substance that is food for your intestinal cells, keeping the cells healthy and strong. This is so crucial if you have any history of colon cancer in your family. Beans, greens and seeds for everybody!