PLAY­ING WITH FI­BRE

Think fi­bre has all the sex ap­peal of ther­mals and Crocs? You’d be right. But with ben­e­fits that prove this nu­tri­ent punches above its weight, it’s cer­tainly get­ting nutrition ex­perts hot and both­ered

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - words EMMA PRITCHARD

It’s the trendi­est nu­tri­ent. True story.

Food can pos­sess a cer­tain, well, sex­i­ness – just re­watch a cer­tain su­per­mar­ket ad­vert; you know, the one with the soft porn sound­track and the choco­late driz­zling oh-so se­duc­tively down the side of a back­lit ramekin. Some in­gre­di­ents have it in spades (oh, av­o­cado, you fox), while oth­ers are for­ever des­tined to sit on a spare plate just out­side the In­sta­gram shot. Roughage. Bulk. Bran. 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 Brits fall short of get­ting their fill. But, just you wait – de­spite fi­bre’s bland rep, it’s get­ting a makeover. ‘Fi­bre is num­ber one on the radar of nutrition pro­fes­sion­als right now,’ says reg­is­tered nu­tri­tion­ist Jen­nie Gough. ‘Many women fo­cus on count­ing calo­ries or macronu­tri­ents (pro­tein, carbs and fat), but don’t re­alise the im­por­tance or ben­e­fit of in­clud­ing more fi­bre in their diet. This is con­cern­ing be­cause it has sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits for health and well­be­ing.’ This re­cent nu­tri­tional trend isn’t ex­actly new. Ask any­one over 50 about the F-plan diet – the high-fi­bre, low-fat fad of the 1980s – and they’ll prob­a­bly re­call load­ing their trol­leys with pota­toes, beans and bran in a bid to hit the lofty 70g daily tar­get. Kel­logg’s re­ported a surge in sales of All Bran and the move­ment even had its own pin-up in Dr De­nis Burkitt – the ‘Bran Man’. But some­where be­tween the Atkins diet and the trend for pul­veris­ing fruit into smooth­ies, fi­bre fell off the radar. Di­eti­tians es­ti­mate that the aver­age per­son is eat­ing around 18g a day, de­spite the Bri­tish Nutrition Foun­da­tion rec­om­mend­ing al­most dou­ble that. Mean­while, nutrition evan­ge­lists are go­ing nuts for the stuff. UK teams are trav­el­ling the world to re­search the ef­fects of fi­bre on the body and the NHS has even made changes to the way it rec­om­mends peo­ple get their fix.

THE IN­CRED­I­BLE BULK

Think you’ve got fi­bre sussed? Doubt­ful – it’s a com­plex lit­tle nu­tri­ent with more lay­ers than a serv­ing of mint Vi­en­netta. ‘The term fi­bre de­scribes the non-di­gestible plant-based carbs in your diet,’ says Simon Bach, con­sul­tant col­orec­tal sur­geon at Spire Park­way Hospi­tal, Birm­ing­ham. ‘There are dif­fer­ent forms of carbs – starch, which is long chains of glu­cose; and non­starch 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 ex­pert un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man body de­vel­ops. For decades, health pro­fes­sion­als spoke of sol­u­ble and in­sol­u­ble fi­bre. The for­mer, found in beans, pulses and the fleshy parts of fruit and veg­eta­bles, re­ferred to fi­bre that dis­solves to form a liq­uid or gel sub­stance car­ried through the gut wall and into the body. In­sol­u­ble fi­bre, on the other hand – found in whole grains and the ed­i­ble skins of fruit and veg – can’t dis­solve, so re­mains in the bow­els where it in­creases the bulk and soft­ness of the waste you pass (no­body said sex­ing up fi­bre would be easy). More re­cently, though, ex­perts have phased out th­ese terms be­cause of in­con­sis­ten­cies in the ways so-called sol­u­ble and in­sol­u­ble fi­bres re­act in the body. Now, both types 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 byprod­uct.

YOUR BIT OF ROUGH

It’s this last stage of the process, the go­ing­son 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. Mul­ti­ple 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 role to play, too, by en­cour­ag­ing spe­cific cells to re­lease ap­petite­sup­press­ing hor­mones, like pep­tide YY. And re­cent stud­ies show the in­flu­ence of the mi­cro­biome on the process of stor­ing calo­ries as fat.

IT’S NOT ALL BRAN

While you’re prob­a­bly well versed on what con­sti­tutes a carb, fi­bre is a bit fog­gier. ‘High-fi­bre foods are those that con­tain at least 6g fi­bre per 100g, while those that con­tain at least 3g are a “source” of fi­bre,’ ex­plains Ni­chola Lud­lam-raine, reg­is­tered di­eti­tian and spokesper­son for the Bri­tish Di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion. Re­mem­ber, you’re aim­ing for 30g a day. So, short of stock­ing

NUTRITION EVAN­GE­LISTS ARE GO­ING NUTS FOR THE STUFF

up on all the bran, how can you up your in­take? The good news is your plate doesn’t have to take on 50 shades of brown. Lud­lamRaine sug­gests adding hand­fuls of frozen veg to meals, swap­ping crisps for nuts, seeds and pop­corn, and us­ing whole­meal flour in your bak­ing. And if you’re peel­ing all your veg, take note. ‘Fi­bre is found in the cell wall, where it pro­vides struc­tural sup­port for the plant,’ says Gough. ‘The peel is a rich source of fi­bre so, by eat­ing fruit and veg with the skin on, you’ll get more of the ben­e­fit. When it comes to drinks, juic­ing re­moves more fi­bre than blend­ing, but with smooth­ies it is still bro­ken down, so has less ben­e­fit than if you were sim­ply to eat the whole fruit.’ Be­fore you make an emer­gency pit stop at Whole Foods, a word of warning. ‘Go­ing from no fi­bre at all to a lot of fi­bre could put a strain on your di­ges­tive sys­tem,’ says Lud­lam-raine. This could present a block­age sit­u­a­tion or, at the other end of the spec­trum, you know, the shits. ‘To avoid such is­sues, in­crease the amount of fi­bre in your diet grad­u­ally, while up­ping your fluid in­take at the same time.’ And if your gut has a low tol­er­ance for, well, any­thing, you’d be wise to con­sult a di­eti­tian as to the best sources of fi­bre for you. ‘Cer­tain fi­bre-con­tain­ing foods can trig­ger symp­toms of IBS,’ says Gough. ‘For suf­fer­ers, I would sug­gest spread­ing fi­bre across your meals and fo­cus­ing on foods like oat­meal, bar­ley and fruits, in­clud­ing berries, man­goes and or­anges, which should be bet­ter tol­er­ated. But for be­spoke ad­vice, I would al­ways sug­gest con­sult­ing a nutrition pro­fes­sional.’ If you can stom­ach fi­bre-rich foods, ex­perts agree that di­ver­sity is key. Study af­ter study points to the health ben­e­fits that come with a more di­verse mi­cro­biome (hit page 61 for more on that). Next time you’re wan­der­ing the su­per­mar­ket aisles, go with your gut.

YOUR PLATE DOESN’T HAVE TO TAKE ON 50 SHADES OF BROWN

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