Fibre is certainly one of the commonest topics discussed when looking at the issue of gastrointestinal health. It is not really a secret that fibre is a very important, although frequently overlooked, component in a healthy diet. All nutritional experts would stand by the fact that fibre helps in keeping a schedule of regular bowel movements, assisting to avoid constipation. But fibre actually plays a larger role than this. Fibre does a lot for the gut; it promotes proper digestion, limits fat absorption, and even assists in flushing out toxins. Additionally, fibre is a key ingredient in the maintenance of the good bacteria population in our gut. So how does any of this work?
How Fibre Promotes Proper Digestion
The role of fibre has been studied thoroughly. It is, at its simplest form, a natural laxative and digestive enhancer. There are two kinds of dietary fibres: soluble and insoluble fibre. These types have slightly different effects on the digestive system but there is no denying the benefits that they present.
Soluble fibre is the kind of fibre people can get from oats, soy and lentils. It absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance. This kind of fibre helps out by softening the stool. It also sticks to cholesterol and prevents its absorption.
Insoluble fibre comes from the skin of fruits and vegetables, as well as bulkier plants like carrots and squash. Insoluble fibre helps by acting as roughage, making the stool more bulky and preventing constipation. With both kinds of fibre, proper digestion can be maintained and a lot of diseases can be avoided.
The Role of Fiber in Maintaining Good Intestinal Flora
Fibre is also the component found in important foods known as prebiotics. Basically, prebiotics help feed the digestive tract’s natural flora, or as they are more commonly called, the good gut bacteria. This intake of fibre helps the good bacteria create a fatty acid known as butyrate.
Butyrate helps maintain the intestinal lining and the healthy environment for the good bacteria while ensuring that bad bacteria and other harmful microbes do not thrive. This is very important since a lot of digestive tract issues such as inflammatory bowel diseases and even cancer arise from a lack of balance and protection in the intestinal lining, predisposing it to invasion of dangerous bacteria and other damaging toxins.
Many of the diseases found in the colon and the lower digestive tract, including colon cancer, have been linked with chronic low levels of inflammation at the tissues lining the intestines. Much of this inflammation is caused by immune system cells called T-cells that mistake the good bacteria for bad bacteria.
Because of this imbalanced immune response, the good bacteria get attacked and we in exchange get our intestinal lining inflamed and damaged. The butyrate that is produced by the good bacteria within the intestines help calm down and decrease inflammation by getting rid of overactive T-cells of the body. Because of this, the digestive tract’s defense system will only go after the disease-causing bacteria and not cause needless inflammation. All these processes are only possible because of the fibre in our diet that feed the good gut bacteria.
Fibre For Weight Management
Fibre is also one of the most important food components where diet and weight loss is concerned. People trying to get rid of excess weight would benefit greatly from adding a couple of grams to their diet. Although many people tend to associate weight loss with balancing fat and carbohydrates or adding extra protein in to build muscle, the majority forget about fibre. Fibre promotes the excretion of extra fat in the body through the bowels. It helps promote the feeling of fullness as well. We need an average of about 30 grams of fibre a day. Studies show that the average person only consumes about 15 grams of fibre a day or less; just half of what people should be consuming.
Fibre and Diabetes
Besides its role in gut health, fibre is also well-known in the fight against diabetes. You may be wondering how can something that usually seems to just affect the intestines have a significant effect on a disease about blood sugar? Well, fiber cannot be digested or broken down by the human body. As such, it does not really contain any calories. Because it doesn’t contain calories for the human body to consume, it has a low glycemic index yet provides higher levels of satiety.
A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that people suffering from type 2 diabetes who consume 50 grams of fibre daily were more able to maintain their blood sugar level within normal ranges as compared to those who didn’t. Fibre can also help lower the blood cholesterol, which diabetic people also often have problems with.
For centuries the human diet has been rich in fibre and as such, we had little to worry about where digestive health was concerned. The modern era however has given rise to processed foods and quick-cooking meals that are mostly just preservatives and almost devoid of fibre. It is no wonder that the number of cancers and inflammatory disorders of the gut have risen in such alarming rates recently. We must remember that fibre is crucial in a healthy diet and that it is as important as other vitamins and minerals. With benefits such as promoting good digestion, aiding in diabetes control, and feeding our good intestinal bacteria, it is obvious that fibre is indispensable and is essential in maintaining our overall health. For more on the importance of restoring good gut health, check out my online program here.
joslin diabetes center (joslin.org)