As well as being good for gut health, fibre (also known as roughage) can help with all sorts health conditions. But how much of it do we need? What are the best sources? And how can we make sure fibre helps rather than hinders symptoms like diarrhoea?
Here, we chat to registered dietician Dr Sammie Gill, who is currently investigating the impact of fibre and IBS, to get the low-down on the rough stuff…
How can fibre help with our digestion?
Fibre is essential for a healthy gut. “Different fibres actually behave very differently when they reach the gut,” explains Dr Gill. Soluble fibre can be beneficial for IBS since it can hold water and form a gel-like consistency in the gut. This helps bulk out our stool (making liquid stool more solid) and normalise its form. However, insoluble, coarse fibre stays intact in our bowels, making waste move through our bowels more quickly (which is why too much of this type of fibre might exacerbate diarrhoea).
But it’s not just about making toilet trips easier. We’ve all heard about the importance of probiotics and good bacteria – but we need fibre in the first place to feed our microbiome and help it flourish. “Some types of fibres, known as prebiotics (for example, inulin), have been shown to stimulate the growth of beneficial gut microbes such as bifidobacteria,” explains Dr Gill.
How can fibre help with our overall health?
As well as keeping our bellies happy, there’s lots of evidence that suggests fibre can boost our overall health. Not only does tucking into fibre-rich meals lower your risk of bowel cancer, but it can also reduce your chances of getting diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or even a stroke. “Some fibres have cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering effects, as well as improving glycemic [blood sugar] control,” adds Dr Gill.
How much fibre do I need?
However, while it’s important to tuck into fibre-rich foods, make sure to introduce them gradually. “Drink plenty of fluids, too, because fibre needs water to work,” explains Dr Gill.
Healthcare professionals quoted in this article do not endorse any medicinal brands.
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