We all know that a balanced diet is important, especially as we age. Constantly we are being advised to eat 5 fruit and veg a day - but what about fibre? The often-forgotten ingredient is just as vital to maintain a healthy diet and body. Here, we break it down for you...
First of all, what exactly is fibre?
Currently, there is no uniform definition of dietary fibre. It consists of structurally complex compounds, better known as the indigestible parts of fruits, vegetables, cereal products, whole grains and pulses.
Dietary fibre is either water-soluble or water-insoluble. Whole grains, wheat bran, vegetables and the skins of some fruits are rich sources of insoluble fibre.
How is fibre good for me?
The strong interplay between dietary fibre, gut bacteria and gut function probably explains why dietary fibres deliver a complex range of health benefits but also why we all respond differently to fibre intake.
Dietary fibre is a vital component of a healthy diet and is said to maintain healthy bowel function. This is due to its bulking action, which helps to reduce constipation as well as reducing the risk of diverticulitis.
In the large intestine, undigested dietary fibre is broken down by bacteria which naturally exist in large numbers in the gut. This process generates energy and gases including carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen. In some people with a high intake of dietary fibre, these gases can lead to uncomfortable bloating and flatulence. However, these can also be beneficial. For example, short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are produced in large quantities by certain gut bacteria and are thought to have a positive impact on gut health by reducing the risk of gut diseases including diverticulitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Sounds great - should we all eat as much fibre as possible then?
Well, we all respond differently to fibre intake. This may be because of inherent differences in gut bacteria from person to person and may explain the moving trends towards personalised nutrition. For example, in some people a high fibre diet can actually raise the risk of developing diverticulosis. So fibre intake needs to be tailored to the person taking into account possible health problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, a fibre intake of 18g provides the recommended daily amount in the diet. In other words, be sensible - have a bit of everything in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
This article was commissioned by Healthspan. Established by Derek Coates in 1996, Healthspan is the UK's leading home shopping supplier of vitamins, minerals and health supplements. Find them online at http://www.healthspan.co.uk