You can’t go very far within the fitness or ‘wellness’ industries without coming across the subjects of ‘nutrition’ and ‘hydration’ or food and drink to you and me. And within our industries, as in society as a whole, the subject can become very confusing very quickly due in no small part to conflicting messages, misinformation and the latest fad ‘miracle’ diet trend.
Consequently, in a world of bionically enhanced fitness influencers daily dropping scantily-clad click-bait whilst doing impossible calisthenics at the top of Alpine waterfalls or somehow deadlifting a car with their thumb, fibre must rank among the top ten least sexy subjects to talk about when trying to run a fitness business.
But talk about it we must… Why? Because most people don’t get enough of it, and… most people need more of it. So why is it so important and what does it do? Fibre comes in two forms:
Both forms do different things, probably only one of which you’ll be aware of.
The basics: Fibre is a plant-derived starch present to a lesser or greater degree in all grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, legumes and nuts (the level depends firstly on the natural level of fibre occurring in each whole food and secondly on the degree to which the original source has been refined or processed like when wheat is turned into bread). Fibre is non-digestible in humans, due to us not producing the relevant enzymes, meaning that we cannot derive energy from it, meaning that it’s calorie free*. Other animals (like cows) can derive energy from fibre but only because they have more than one stomach and the ability to produce the relevant enzymes…
So now you’re thinking ‘OK, Tom, firstly we’ve established that humans aren’t cows and we don’t get energy from fibre so what do we get from fibre and why should I eat it?’ So let’s go back to the two forms of fibre and discuss what they do:
· Soluble fibre effectively acts like a sponge and combines with water to form a gel-like substance as it passes through your digestive tract. This gel-like substance also soaks up significant amounts of bile acid, cholesterol and fats within the digestive system and (perhaps of most relevance to you guys) helps to delay the passage of starch and sugar through the digestive tract where it is turned into blood sugars which enter the bloodstream. This regulatory effect on blood sugar levels is hugely relevant in today’s food environment where many food stuffs serve only to spike blood sugar levels (with a resulting crash in energy levels several hours later). This delaying effect also helps to keep us ‘fuller’ for longer. Therefore remember:
o Soluble fibre may help us to manage / lower our total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoproteins (LDLs or ‘bad’ cholesterols). The relevant sources here are from beans, oats, flax seeds and oatbran.
o By helping to regulate our blood sugar and therefore our insulin levels (the chemical we produce to help regulate blood sugar), fibre is key in helping us to avoid Type 2 Diabetes…
o Soluble fibre is found in the flesh of fruits, vegetables and grains
· Insoluble fibre is found in the outer husk of grains plus the skins /stems / leaves of fruits and vegetables and in-effect acts like a scrubbing brush within the digestive system and it is this ‘scrubbing’ effect that most people first think about as being the reason they should eat more fibre. This scrubbing effect, combined with the benefits of soluble fibre means that ensuring plenty of fibre in the diet will ease the digestive process (as your Grandma used to say “keep you regular”) by bulking out your stools making them easier to pass. A high-fibre diet is therefore also thought to be important in avoiding digestive complications such as diverticulosis and haemorrhoids as well as certain cancers such as colon cancer.
· A diet with plenty of soluble and non-soluble fibre can also be crucial in helping people to attain a healthy weight, basically by keeping you fuller for longer and triggering your ‘full signal’ (the signals passing between gut and brain) at an earlier stage due to the bulking / gastric-inhibiting effects of fibre plus water contained within many sources.
‘OK Tom, so now you’ve convinced me that fibre is sexier than a scantily-clad influencer’s bionic glutes, where do I get it and how much do I need?’
As mentioned above, fibre is present in all of the following: grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, legumes and nuts, however before we finish this sermon on fibre, the following should be noted:
· For multiple reasons it is better to get your fibre from whole food sources by which we mean, foods which are as unprocessed as possible… With fruits, vegetables and nuts this is fairly straight forward – just eat lots of fresh, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, legumes, salad, nuts etc. However, as regards grains and pulses in particular be aware that the more processed the product (be it bread / cake / biscuits / cereals etc), the more of the wholegrain will have effectively been removed undermining it as a meaningful source of fibre (as well as meaning that multiple other issues may be present including the presence of high quantities of fats, sugars and additives).
· Generally, the recommended daily amount of fibre required for most adults is around 35g per day split equally between soluble and non-soluble sources. Whether you chose to eat more or less than this figure (or even whether you bother to measure these things – we don’t) is up to you, but just be aware that rapidly increasing the quantities of fibre in your diet may well have significant consequences in the short term on your gastric functioning so increase your levels gradually.
So now you’re thinking ‘OK Tom, so now I’ll pay more attention to my fibre intake and pay less attention to the scantily-clad fitness influencers, what do I do?’. So here are some simple actions to create your fibre habit:
· Do: begin to swap-out your processed snacks for fruit, nuts and vegetables – an apple and a biscuit are both around 60-80 calories – biscuits are full of processed sugar and trans-fats and will encourage bingeing, apples are full of fibre (particularly soluble) plus water and micro-nutrients, will keep you fuller for longer and rarely trigger bingeing.
· Do: aim to use as many fresh ingredients as possible when preparing meals – in fact the great thing about many sources of fibre is actually that they require minimum or no prep – just wash, chop, eat.
· Do: aim to eat fruit / veg with every meal – there are many ways to ensure this happens including adding fruit and berries to your morning oats, making up a salad box for lunch and perhaps most importantly, ensuring that the bottom of your plate or bowl is layered with (non-starchy!) veggies in the evening.
In a future blog post we will cover the subject of carbohydrates more generally (of which fibre is one type) looking at complex / non-complex carbs and the thorny issue of sugar and in particular fructose. But for now, we’ll leave you to ponder the issue of fibre. As always, myself and James are happy to sign-post you towards additional information on all of the subjects that we cover so just ask.