We need to talk about fi­bre

Think fi­bre has all the sex ap­peal of ther­mals and Crocs? You’d be right. But with ben­e­fits that prove this F-word is a health pow­er­house, it’s cer­tainly get­ting ex­perts hot and both­ered...

Women's Health Australia - - NEWS - By Emma Pritchard

It mightn’t be culi­nary porn, but this f-word needs a place on your plate

Foods can pos­sess a cer­tain, well, sex­i­ness. Some have it in spades (choco­late, berries... Oh, av­o­cado, you fox), while oth­ers are for­ever des­tined to sit on a spare plate just out­side the In­sta­gram shot.

Roughage. Bulk. Fi­bre is many things, but culi­nary porn it is not. Per­haps that’s why, de­spite the rel­a­tive ease of do­ing so, the vast ma­jor­ity of us fall short of get­ting our fill. But, de­spite fi­bre’s bland rep, this clas­sic’s get­ting a makeover.

“Fi­bre is num­ber one on the radar of nu­tri­tion pro­fes­sion­als right now,” says reg­is­tered nutri­tion­ist Jen­nie Gough. “Many women don’t re­alise the im­por­tance of in­clud­ing more fi­bre in their diet. This is con­cern­ing be­cause [fi­bre] has sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits for health and well­be­ing.”

It’s es­ti­mated that the av­er­age per­son is eat­ing around 20g a day, de­spite the Di­eti­tians As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia rec­om­mend­ing 25–30g. That said, nu­tri­tion evan­ge­lists are go­ing nuts for the stuff. Sci­en­tists are trav­el­ling the world to re­search the ef­fects of fi­bre on the body, while 2017 re­search by Nu­tri­tion Re­search Aus­tralia sug­gests if we all added just one serve of high­fi­bre grain food to our di­ets daily, it could help pre­vent 64,000 cases of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and 126,000 cases of type 2 di­a­betes a year.

The in­cred­i­ble bulk

Think you’ve got fi­bre sussed? Doubt­ful – it’s a com­plex lit­tle num­ber with more lay­ers than a serv­ing of Vi­en­netta. “The term ‘fi­bre’ de­scribes the nondi­gestible plant-based carbs in your diet,” says con­sul­tant col­orec­tal sur­geon Si­mon Bach. “There are dif­fer­ent forms of carbs – starch, which is long chains of glu­cose; and non-starch polysac­cha­rides, which are long chains of other sug­ars (non-glu­cose). It is these non-starch polysac­cha­rides that make up the fi­bre in your diet.”

But the way we re­fer to fi­bre has changed as un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man body has de­vel­oped. For decades, health pro­fes­sion­als spoke of sol­u­ble fi­bre (which dis­solves to form a liq­uid car­ried through the gut wall into the body) and in­sol­u­ble fi­bre (which re­mains in your bow­els, in­creas­ing the bulk and soft­ness of your waste). More re­cently, though, ex­perts have phased out these terms be­cause of in­con­sis­ten­cies in the ways the types of fi­bre re­act in the body. Now, both sit un­der the um­brella term of ‘di­etary fi­bre’.

Still with us? The fi­bre passed into the large in­tes­tine in­tact is pro­cessed by the mi­cro­biome in the gut. These bac­te­ria break down the fi­bre and use the re­sult­ing carbs as en­ergy, but they also pump out short-chain fatty acids (SCFAS) as a by-prod­uct.

Your bit of rough

It’s this last stage of the process, the go­ings-on in the gut, that’s get­ting re­searchers’ rocks off.

“We’re learn­ing more about the knock-on ben­e­fits that come from main­tain­ing the health of the gut lin­ing,” says Pro­fes­sor Gary Frost, chair of nu­tri­tion and di­etet­ics at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don. “And, be­cause of the role that it plays in this, the im­por­tance of fi­bre, too.”

Back to those SCFAS. A grow­ing body of re­search is point­ing to their dis­ease-fight­ing anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties as the rea­son fi­bre is so good at fu­ture-proof­ing your health. In the past year, stud­ies have high­lighted the role of fi­bre in (ready?) build­ing stronger bones, pro­tect­ing bowel health, re­duc­ing risk of os­teoarthri­tis and low­er­ing choles­terol. And you can add to that older re­search into fi­bre’s role in breast cancer preven­tion and strength­en­ing im­mu­nity.

Fu­ture-proof­ing aside, eat­ing more fi­bre could also ben­e­fit your im­me­di­ate health. It comes down to the role fi­bre plays in weight loss. Stud­ies have pointed to the prin­ci­ple that fi­bre ab­sorbs more wa­ter and breaks down at a slower rate than other nu­tri­ents, keep­ing blood sugar lev­els steady and you feel­ing fuller for longer. Those SCFAS have a part to play, too, by en­cour­ag­ing spe­cific cells to re­lease ap­petite-sup­press­ing hor­mones, such as pep­tide YY.

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