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‘Eat more fibre’ - It’s a piece of health advice you’ve probably heard so often that you never stop to think about why.
Start by thinking of your body like a computer. When you're digesting food it's similar to when your computer is downloading a big document. Your blood flow is diverted towards your digestive system, meaning there's a little less available for your brain. If you are regularly choosing nutritionally zapped, heavily processed food or quick-fix caffeine or sugar hits, you can expect the mainframe computer (i.e. your body) to begin feeling overwhelmed, uninspired and sluggish.
It’s much better to eat fibre-rich foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as oats that will help with everything from reducing a sluggish gut to improving good cholesterol.
The role of fibre is that instead of making your digestion sluggish, it spruces up the whole affair and helps the passage of waste rather than hinders it. If you consume high fibre foods that are also low in sugar, such as whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains, you are truly helping your body from the inside out.
There are actually two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, both of which are found in plant foods – fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.
Oats are a great source of beta-glucans, a type of soluble fibre. Soluble fibre dissolves in the liquids from your digestive tract to form a gel like consistency. This binds with fatty acids (made of cholesterol) thus preventing cholesterol from being absorbed, as it would have otherwise, into the bloodstream. This is why oats are an incredibly important ingredient if you are looking to lower or manage cholesterol and associated risks. Interestingly, data from medical testing company LiveSmart recently highlighted that 60% of those tested have high cholesterol, but only 5% were aware of it.
There are other benefits too. “Fuller for longer” isn’t just a throwaway marketing term. Soluble fibre extends the feeling of fullness by delaying the stomach emptying and slowing the passage of food through your intestines.
Insoluble fibre is important, too. It absorbs water, helping to create a feeling of fullness in your stomach and add bulk, which also helps to transit waste. As a result, you’re less likely to over eat because you’re full and satisfied after treating yourself to a fibre-rich snack or meal.
Insoluble fibre is found in the skins of fruits and vegetables, nuts and some whole grains. Inulin, one type of insoluble fibre, travels through our bodies from the small to large intestine, also referred to as the gut, where it acts as a kind of fertilizer for the estimated 100 trillion bacteria (microbiota) that call your gut home. Microbial imbalances in your gut are also a major root cause of chronic health issues. A healthy, high fibre diet is a great way to balance the delicate system between the beneficial and ‘bad’ bacteria.
Inulin is also a hormone in the body which is responsible for keeping blood sugar levels balanced. Blood sugar imbalance is a condition in which your body does not handle glucose effectively. Throughout the day blood glucose levels may fluctuate outside the body’s desired blood glucose range. Swinging from being very high after a meal of overly processed foods, stimulants such as coffee, or stress, to being very low if you skipped breakfast. Prevent fatigue, cravings and energy dips by consuming fibre-rich foods at regular intervals throughout the day, which contain insoluble fibre and therefore inulin that will help restore blood sugar level balance.
So, how much fibre is enough?
Adults should aim for around 20g a day. Rather than measuring it out – an impossible task – just choose high fibre foods in place of refined foods. So, porridge instead of sweetened cereals, oatcakes with healthy toppings such as hummus or peanut butter instead of crisps or white bread, and a large side of vegetables with your main meal rather than the breadbasket. These are simple changes that make all the difference.
Lastly, when it comes to keeping your gut happy, think about making relaxation a priority. When your body is flooded with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, sending it into ‘fight or flight’ mode, it reduces your gut’s ability to process and absorb nutrients from food. A great excuse to chill out!