Your digestive tract is at work every moment of every day. That miraculous tube that runs from gum to bum fuels our minds, bodies and lives. When it is not working properly, we suffer. There are many ways to protect and enhance your digestive health. One of the best ways is to consume appropriate amounts and types of fibre.
Fibre is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet, and yet Canadians don’t consume enough of it. The majority of us consume less than half the daily recommended amount. Not meeting this goal causes digestive ailments which can impact your overall health. We can see evidence of this today with increased rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and diabetes.
Fibre is a nutritious component of food created and conveniently packaged for us by Mother Nature. Famously known for improving regularity fibre offers many other health benefits. However, fibre-rich foods that were once part of most traditional diets, have slowly been replaced by processed foods that offer few nutritional benefits.
Also known as roughage or bulk, fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, grain products, lentils, nuts and seeds. There are many different types of fibre, the most common are soluble and insoluble.
As their name suggests, soluble fibres dissolve in water. As they travel through the digestive tract absorbing water in the stomach and intestine, they create a gel-like substance that slows digestion and prevents certain fats and sugars from being broken down and absorbed. Soluble fibres help keep blood sugar levels steadier and can lower bad cholesterol in the blood. Soluble fibres are fermented and used by bacteria in the intestine. Insoluble fibres are neither broken down nor absorbed. They remain intact and provide bulk to what travels down the digestive tract. Insoluble fibres are important for bowel function. They help prevent intestinal blockages, constipation and hemorrhoids. Another type of fibre is called functional fibre. These fibres are extracted from natural plant sources and are used to boost the fibre content of certain foods and drinks and are used as a fibre supplement.
Fibrous foods tend to be less“dense” which means they have fewer calories but offer the same volume of food and tend to make you feel fuller longer. This helps reduce the likelihood of overeating and gaining weight.
High fibre foods can help with both constipation and diarrhea. Adequate amounts of fibre will help soften and increase the weight and size of your stool. Softer stools decrease your chance of suffering from the pain and discomfort of constipation. If you have loose, watery stools, soluble fibres can help solidify stools.
A diet rich in fibre may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticular disease (small sacs-like pockets in the lining of the colon). Fibre also helps to block absorption of some sugars and fats in the small intestine. Fibre provides fuel for the “good” bacteria in the large intestine.
In people with diabetes, soluble fibre may slow sugar absorption and help improve blood sugar levels.
Soluble fibre may help lower “bad” cholesterol levels by attaching to cholesterol particles in the digestive system and moving them out of the body before being absorbed.