A lot of people find it overwhelming when told to increase their fibre consumption. Whether that’s due to not having enough time to prepare fresh produce, not knowing how to cook with certain ingredients or simply having no idea where to start.
The fact that global fibre intakes are low, on average, this has a significant impact on the driving numbers seen in chronic disease such as IBS, bowel cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So, it’s no secret that getting enough fibre is crucial for more than just having healthy bowel motions (although that is extremely important too!).
A little note on fibre… When we consume certain types of fibre they each have different effects. Insoluble fibre remains undigested in the bowels and acts as a kind of brush to remove waste from our gut adding bulk and movement, which helps put our bowels in motion. Soluble fibre, however, quite literally feeds our gut microbes, turning it into a gel-like consistency through digestion. This gel-like consistency also helps move the intestinal contents along for removal. Although, both are extremely beneficial for lowering inflammation which is a driving force behind development of many if not most chronic diseases.
Fibre intakes are certainly a hot topic within the health and wellness space. However, it is beneficial to know the why’s and how’s behind this essential dietary component. Let’s delve into soluble fibres major health benefits and how you can reap the advantages through simple nutrition.
Balancing Blood Sugar
When it comes to our everyday energy levels and appetites soluble fibre is an MVP. Riding the waves of blood sugar peaks and troughs is exhausting, however, blood sugar can be balanced through incorporating enough soluble fibre. The ingestion of foods rich in soluble fibre slows the absorption of sugars or carbohydrates into the blood from other foods or nutrients, which reduces the spike in blood sugars (glucose).
Not only is the slowed absorption beneficial for regulating our energy levels and preventing the 3pm crash, but the slower absorption of glucose is also proven beneficial for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that an increase of soluble fibre in type 2 diabetes patients significantly reduces high blood sugar and increased consumption should be recommended in treatment. Soluble fibre is also capable of influencing the uptake or storage of glucose into skeletal muscle and removing it from the blood, which increases insulin sensitivity and stabilizes the blood sugar.
An additional factor that comes with soluble fibres impact on sustained energy levels is a reduction in appetite and satiety. Of course, listening to your body and hunger cues is essential for health. Though, if you do find yourself continuously hungry and reaching for those biscuits in the office it may be a sign you need to increase your fibre intake.
Aging is an increasing concern in society, even though it is a natural part of life, we are all looking for ways to reduce it. Of a few modifiable factors, diet sure has an impact on healthy aging. And to age healthily we need to optimise our health in order to reduce the risk of disease.
So how can soluble fibre reduce the risk of chronic disease? Due to the natural appetite suppressive effects or satiety effects of soluble fibre there have been advances in the therapeutic effect this may have on obesity. Globally, obesity affects around 650 million people and is associated with early mortality due to its many complications such as cardiovascular disease.
And at the stem of all chronic disease – and aging - is inflammation. Ever heard of inflamm-aging? Well, listen up because increasing your fibre consumption should be next on your list. Countless studies have found that systemic inflammation (meaning it accounts for your whole body) is knowingly reduced in those with diets rich in fibre. This is achieved through several ways including balancing blood sugar, short-chain fatty acid production which act as anti-inflammatory cells, and reduce oxidative stress – which is a major player in cell damage.
Our Gut Microbes Love SF
Just like we need energy to survive so does the bacteria in our gut! It is important that we provide this bacteria with the right fuel, so we don’t end up feeding the bad guys. And soluble fibre is the most favourable fuel for our good gut bacteria including strains like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
Unlike insoluble fibre, soluble fibre is readily digestible and metabolized by gut microbes, which produce numerous beneficial and functional metabolites such as the short-chain fatty acids. The process and the production of these metabolites adds to the abundance and diversity of the human gut microbiome. For instance, the ingestion of regular fructo-oligosaccharides – a type of soluble fibre – increases the diversity of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. An abundant and balanced microbiome has a known impact on human health where it links back to the reduction in risk of chronic disease including IBS and improving gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation.
Sources of Soluble Fibre
Fibre is defined as only deriving from plant sources. An easy way to remember what is insoluble versus soluble is insoluble fibres look harder to break down – grains, cereals – whereas soluble fibres appear easier to digest or contain more water – fruits and vegetables. For optimal intakes, you should be aiming for 30-40g of fibre per day.
Soluble fibre includes various types of fibre which can become viscous, forming gels as it binds with water. This includes pectin (apples), gums (guar gum) and mucilages (psyllium). Some fabulous ways of including soluble fibre into your everyday is making overnight oats which incorporates soaking chia seeds and ground flaxseed (which turn egg-like in consistency when combined with liquid), stewing or cooking apples to release more pectin and prioritising 3-4 different vegetables in your main meals.
Barber, T. M., Kabisch, S., Pfeiffer, A. F. H., & Weickert, M. O. (2020). The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients, 12(10), 3209. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12103209
Chen, C., Zeng, Y., Xu, J., Zheng, H., Liu, J., Fan, R., Zhu, W., Yuan, L., Qin, Y., Chen, S., Zhou, Y., Wu, Y., Wan, J., Mi, M., & Wang, J. (2016). Therapeutic effects of soluble dietary fiber consumption on type 2 diabetes mellitus. Experimental and therapeutic medicine, 12(2), 1232–1242. https://doi.org/10.3892/etm.2016.3377
Yu, X., Liang, X., Han, K., Shi, F., Meng, N., & Li, Q. (2022). Anti-Aging Effect of Dietary Fiber Compound Mediated by Guangxi Longevity Dietary Pattern on Natural Aging Mice. Nutrients, 14(15), 3181. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14153181
Guan, Z. W., Yu, E. Z., & Feng, Q. (2021). Soluble Dietary Fiber, One of the Most Important Nutrients for the Gut Microbiota. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 26(22), 6802. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26226802
Dhingra, D., Michael, M., Rajput, H., & Patil, R. T. (2012). Dietary fibre in foods: a review. Journal of food science and technology, 49(3), 255–266. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-011-0365-5