How often do you have bowel movements and what is the consistency of your stools…
Now, don’t be embarrassed, this is a normal bodily function and is a common question, asked by many Nutritionists and Dieticians. ‘Number twos’ are a tricky subject to talk about and society and the rules of etiquette tell us not to ask these questions often to save us embarrassment. However, we all do it, and it is amazing what our stools can tell us about our health…just google ‘Bristol Stool chart’ and you will know what I mean.
When it comes to our stools and gut health, one key player to helping us ‘being regular’ is dietary fibre.
So what is dietary fibre and what does it do?
Dietary fibre, also known as roughage, is a complex carbohydrate and has a host of health benefits, not only allowing us to stay regular, but can help in reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Dietary fibre is found in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, lentils and legumes. There are different types of dietary fibre, which include insoluble; soluble and resistant starch, and they all have important roles to play in the body.
Soluble fibre – this type of fibre is found in foods such as fruit, vegetables, oats, nuts, barley and beans. Soluble fibre dissolves in water to form a thick gel-like substance that slows movement of food through the gut. It helps to reduce cholesterol absorption by binding to it in the small intestines, and supports the growth of friendly bacteria that we need to achieve a healthy gut. Additionally, soluble fibre helps to slow the time it takes food to pass from the stomach to the small intestines, lowering the glycemic index (GI) of other foods as they are digested. This is great news for those managing their weight, cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Insoluble fibre – unlike soluble fibre, insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water. It can also be found in foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole-grains. Insoluble fibre attracts water into your stool, making it softer and easier to pass with less strain on your bowel. Similar to soluble fibre, it can also help reduce the risk of diabetes. (more on this).
Resistant starch – this type of fibre develops during the heating and cooling of foods, such as rice and potatoes. Resistant starch works like soluble, fermentable fibre. It goes through your stomach and small intestine undigested, and when it reaches the colon it is used for fuel by the bacteria that live there. Resistant starch has been shown to protect against colorectal cancer and reduce bad cholesterol also.
So how much fibre do we need?
Research shows that most New Zealanders do not eat enough fibre. We are recommended to have between 25-30g of fibre per day, to be exact males need 30g and females 25g.
So if we are not getting enough fibre, what can we do to increase our intake and keep our digestion and gut healthy?
I have listed some tips below that will help us to increase our dietary fibre intake;
- Increase your vegetable intake and bulk up meals with fresh seasonal vegetables. Such as adding vegetables to salads, bulking up stews and stir-fry with vegetables or snacking on vegetable sticks with your favourite dips. Remember to keep the skins on vegetables, as that is where a lot of fibre is found.
- Change breakfast cereals to those that are high in fibre. When it comes to reading the food labels on cereals, look for one that has more than 5g of fibre per 100g (and be mindful of the sugars and saturated fats also!). Porridge is a great choice as it contains great amounts of soluble fibre. Add fresh fruit to this to make a fabulous fibrous breakfast.
- Use wholegrain products such as wholegrain pasta or bread, instead of the white alternative. These will offer much more fibre and your gut (and waistline) will thank you for it!
- Use brown rice instead of white. Similar to white bread and pasta, white rice is stripped of its fibrous layer, leaving it less nourishing than brown rice.
- Add chickpeas, kidney beans or lentils to soups and casseroles. This is not only a great cost effective way to make a meal go further, but will also increase your dietary fibre intake.
- Choose snacks that are fibre rich. Such as eating fresh fruit (with the skin on), vegetable sticks, or choose convenient snacks with high fibre, such as the new OSM Everyday Nutrition bar. These bars contain a whopping 10g of fibre per 100g, and gives us 24% of our recommended daily intake of dietary fibre. When compared to other muesli bars, these are the gold standard of dietary fibre, which is great for someone needing to increase their intake. Additionally, these new bars are not only high in fibre and low in sugar, but are also considered to be a low GI snack, which is fantastic news for those wanting to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.
- Read food labels next time you are in the supermarket and familiarise yourself with packaged goods that are more fibrous than others. Top tip – look at the per 100g section, rather than the serving size. This will make it easier to compare like with like. Aim for fibre intake over 5g per 100g.
Can I have too much fibre?
Yes, you can. However, it might be hard to do, as fibre can be so filling.
When we introduce too much fibre too quickly this can cause diarrhoea and even have the opposite effect (constipation) on some people If. you, like many, aren’t meeting the recommended daily intake of fibre, try to introduce more fibre gradually into your diet and ensure you drink plenty of water alongside this. By doing this, your body will adjust to the increase and should respond well.
At the end of the day, fibre in our diet should reduce food transit time in our digestion track, improve our bowel health and make stools easier to pass. So if you haven’t already, google ‘Bristol Stool chart’, familiarise yourself with your own waste product, and start enjoying the benefits of fibre!
For more ideas on how to improve your fibre intake and bowel health, please get in touch.
From your OSM Everyday Nutritionist – Abby Shaw