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Fibre - what is it and why do I need it?

We all know about fibre and understand it is important for our digestive system, and helping us to stay regular, but the benefits of a high fibre diet are much more than bowel movements!

So what is fibre?

Fibre is the term used to describe complex carbohydrates found in plants that the body cannot digest. Unlike other types of carbohydrates it provides no calories because it isn't absorbed into the body.

There are two main types of fibre that we talk about, and most plant foods contain both:

Insoluble fibre: helps to speed the passage of food through the gut and prevent constipation and bowel problems. Good sources of insoluble fibre include wholegrains (e.g wholegrain bread, pasta and rice) and vegetables.

Soluble fibre: helps to control blood sugar levels by slowing glucose absorption and helps reduce LDL (aka 'bad') cholesterol levels. Good sources of soluble fibre include oats, beans, lentils, nuts, fruit and vegetables.

Why do I need it?

As we know, fibre helps to keep the gut healthy by encouraging the smooth passage of food through the digestive system but it also feeds the healthy microorganisms that live in the bowel (large intestine). High fibre foods are beneficial for weight loss as they fill you up, take longer to digest and promote satiety. They take longer to 'chew' so that your body has the chance to figure out that your are not longer hungry and therefore less likely to over eat.

Fibre also has an indirect role in promoting your female hormonal balance and health. Whilst fibre is busy supporting your bowel health, it is also helping to 'flush out' excess oestrogen through our faeces. As we women age, oestrogen declines, particularly as we go through peri to post menopause. We typically think of this declining oestrogen as the main 'problem' factor in this life stage. Whilst declining oestrogen IS a factor, what is often more important in terms of your health and experience of menopausal symptoms is the overall hormonal balance within the body. Whilst oestrogen is in decline, so is progresterone, and without the right kind of lifestyle and diet to support hormonal balance, you can end up in a situation of oestrogen dominance - upsetting the optimal balance of hormones in the female body. This cues unwanted symptoms such as mood swings, hot flushes, brain fog, insomnia and weight gain (particularly round the tummy) that we often associate with the peri - post menopausal stage. Oestrogen dominance is a whole other subject worth a blog post on its own, but for now - fibre plays a key role in your hormonal balance and health, flushing out all that excess oestrogen. So if you are struggling with any of the symptoms I mention above, consider upping your fibre intake - you might be surprised that it helps!

Just to summarise the key benefits of a high fibre diet, in case you are in any doubt of why it's a good thing:

  • helps to maintain bowel health and reduces bowel cancer risk

  • lowers 'bad' cholesterol levels, and other heart health benefits such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation

  • helps control blood sugar levels and therefore reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

  • helps weight control as high fibre foods are more filling and take longer to digest

  • supports hormonal balance - flushing out excess oestrogen in relation to the other hormones in the body

How much fibre should I have?

It is recommended to have around 30g of fibre a day. The UK average is around 18g. Don't get too hung up on the numbers though, it is really easy to boost your fibre intake by just taking in more wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils. And you also get a whole LOAD of amazing nutrients through these foods too - not just fibre. The absolute easiest way to get more into your diet is to make sure that your plate at each meal is half full of veg / plants.

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