Out of all the macronutrients, the health and fitness world seems to have this never-ending obsession with protein—but ask any nutritionist, and they’ll tell you there’s another little superstar contender that isn’t getting nearly enough airtime as it deserves.
Not only does fibre keep things, er, moving along, it can also assist with weight loss amongst a host of many other benefits.
Here, naturopathic nutritionist, Reece Carter shares with us some easy ways to include more fibre in our diets, plus his very own DIY supplement that you can make up yourself at home:
First up, why is dietary fibre so important?
“There are two main types of dietary fibre: soluble, and insoluble,” explains Reece. “The key similarity is that they are both carbohydrates that can’t be absorbed into the bloodstream, which means they stay put in the digestive system and exert their effects from there.” “As the names suggest, soluble fibre is soluble in water, and insoluble isn’t. Insoluble fibre bulks up our poo (sorry, there’s but no point dodging that topic when we’re talking gut health) so that we have a regular, healthy bowel movement—ideally each day. This of course helps to eliminate toxins and undesirable by-products that our liver has lovingly cleaned from our bloodstream. Soluble fibres, on the other hand, are a little more complicated. They take on water and can then be fermented by the bacteria who call our guts home.” “In recent research, we’ve become particularly interested in the soluble fibres that act as prebiotics—that is, they feed the good bacteria in our gut, causing them to grow in number and improve our digestive balance. They in turn create all kinds of ‘happy molecules’ called short-chain fatty acids that feed a healthy gut lining.”
How can adequate fibre intake assist in weight loss and overall health?
“The old wisdom that fibre makes you feel full and doesn’t contain any calories is true,” says Reece. “So fuelling up on fibrous plant-based foods is a sensible way to reduce your energy intake and manage weight.” “What’s coming to light now though is even more interesting: that a healthy bacterial balance, as impacted by prebiotics at dietary levels, might positively affect insulin sensitivity and reduce waistlines in other ways too.”
Reece also explains that there is a link to adequate fibre intake and strengthened immunity as well as improved mood. “A landmark study conducted in Australia last year found that introducing a plant-rich Mediterranean diet over three months was more effective at reducing depressive symptoms than social support on its own,” explains Reece. “That’s mind-blowing support for the concept of the gut-brain axis, and with the prevalence of low mood and energy complaints, should be enough to send everyone straight to their greengrocer.”
Here are Reece’s favourite fibre-boosting ingredients:
“Psyllium is the most common dietary fibre used in commercial supplements, but there’s no benefit in buying a flavoured, branded product when the raw ingredient is just as effective. If you’ve ever noticed how psyllium makes your water turn to gel if left for too long, that’s the soluble fibre at work—just like a sponge!”
“Chia performs like psyllium husk in that it gels up too, but chia also contains other healthy components like polyunsaturated fats—loads of omega-3 and omega-6.”
“You can use flaxseeds in place of chia seeds, as they have similar nutritional properties. But why limit yourself? I’m always singing the praises of variety in our diets, so I actually use all three of the above fibre sources to make a DIY fibre supplement.”
Reece’s DIY fibre supplement:
Combine two parts psyllium husk, one part chia seeds, and one part flaxseeds.
Blend it all up finely to increase the surface area and bioavailability of the healthy fats.
Keep in in a clean, dry jar.
Two teaspoons of this can then be added to a large glass of water or your favourite smoothie for those times when your diet slips here and there and you need a top up. Don’t use it more than three times per day though; get your fibre from other sources too, like fresh fruit and vegetables.