Fibre – The Zero Calorie Carb

By Tom 0
28 April 2015

What is Fibre?

Fibre is an essential part of our daily nutrition, it cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes. In other words, Fibre is the indigestible cell wall component of all plant material. It is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies cannot digest. Unlike starches and sugars (which are the other types of carbohydrates), fibre contributes no calories or food energy.

When we consume fibre we add bulk to the foods but get zero calories from it. Each gram of carbohydrate has the equivalent of 4 calories. Fibre mainly comes from sources of plant foods such as: fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes. Also note that fibre doesn’t actually get broken down but simply passes through the entire digestive tract.

Pectin, a type of Fibre abundant in apples is a powerful detoxifier. It binds with toxins and escorts them out of the body.

There are two types of classifications for fibre, these are:

  1. Soluble Fibre – this type of fibre dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels and is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots and barley.
  2. Insoluble Fibre – this type of fibre promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk. It can be beneficial for those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Good sources of this type of fibre include whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, vegetables and potatoes.

Fibre is present in all plant foods, in various amounts. Fruits, vegetables and legumes (beans, lentils) are the ideal sources of both soluble and insoluble fibre since they also contain a very high antioxidant (read more on antioxidants – opens in new window) value.

How much Fibre do we need?

Currently, the UK government’s official recommendation for fibre is 18 grams per day. However, according to the Institute of Medicine guidelines the recommendations are 38 grams per day for a male under 50 and 25 grams per day for a female under 50. For those aged 51 and older, males are recommended 30 grams daily and females 21 grams daily.

Also note that there is no current guideline for how much of what we eat should be insoluble or soluble. It’s noted that in our average diet, currently three quarters of our current fibre intake is insoluble (source: The Health Sciences Academy). This reflects that we tend to eat a lot of bread and grain based foods but not enough fruit and vegetables.

If you find that your current fibre intake is currently quite low and by reading this you know that you need to consume more, it has been found that people who quickly increase their intake sometimes experience cramping and bloating. A gradual increase is always recommended.

What are the risks of Fibre deficiency?

A deficiency of fibre in your current diet can include:

  • irregular digestion
  • elevated cholesterol levels
  • increased body weight
  • constipation

Fibre absorbs water and swells, providing bulk inside your digestive tract. This helps to keep everything soft and moving easily through your body. Ensure that you always drink plenty of water when increasing your fibre intake, otherwise, constipation may become worse.

Fibre helps reduce Cholesterol

Foods that lower cholesterolDuring digestion, your body releases bile acids which contain cholesterol from your body. Normally a portion of this cholesterol gets re-absorbed into your body along with nutrients from food. However, when fibre is present in your intestines, it binds to bile acids and eliminates them from your body as waste together with the cholesterol they contain.

Increasing your fibre intake and reducing your saturated fat intake can help to lower high cholesterol.

Fibre helps to lower risks of cancers

Due to the fact that most foods that contain fibre are fruits and vegetables, these tend to have a higher antioxidant level than most other foods. It has been shown that antioxidants help to prevent free radical damage which cause cells to turn cancerous. See the antioxidant article (opens in new window) for more information on these and how they can help our overall health.

Research has shown that low levels of vitamin A in the blood has consistently been found in people who have developed lung cancer (Bond, G. et al., 1989) and that a high intake of beta-carotene from raw fruit and vegetables helps to reduce the risks of lung cancer developing in non-smoking men and women (Mayne, S. T., 1990).

In 2012, researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia discovered that fibre binds up to 80% of cancer-inhibiting antioxidant polyphenols in fruit and vegetables safely escorting them to the colon where they can provide protection against cancers.

Fibre and weight management

Fibre can help us to manage our body weight due to the following reasons:

  • Fibre has zero calories, adds bulk to your food and binds with water in your gastrointestinal system. This helps to reduce hunger, promoting a sense of fullness.
  • Soluble fibre can help slow the absorption of sugar and help balance blood sugar levels. This will reduce the risk of type II diabetes.
  • High fibre meals are less ‘energy dense’. This means that they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.

A large portion of chunky vegetable soup at the start of a meal has been shown to increase satiety and reduce the total amount of calories you eat in your main meal by about 20%.

Juice or smoothie?

Now this is a very important question, one that I get asked on a regular basis. With the new products that are out there such as the NutriBullet, which is best? When you juice a food, rather than blend it, it removes the fibre. When the food(s) are juiced the fibrous pulp is usually discarded, which means that you miss out on the health benefits of these antioxidants (polyphenols) as well as the fibre (Dr. Padayachee).

In juicing, the polyphenols that were bound to fibre within these plant cells may not make it to the colon. Therefore, these beneficial antioxidants may be more bio-available via blending (or eaten whole) rather than juicing.

So all in all, we need fibre. We now know what fibre is and how our body can use and also, more importantly, what health benefits fibre has. It can be used as a great weight management tool and also improve our overall health with bowel movements, water retention, reduced cholesterol and also help to protect us against cancers.

To find out more about nutrition deficiencies and how we can help your overall health in regards to lowering risks of cancers, reducing cholesterol and overall wellbeing, take a look at our Nutritional Therapy assessments.

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author: Tom

Tom has been in the fitness industry for over 8 years. He is qualified in functional movement, Kettlebells, Boxercise, Nutrition and many other qualifications. Tom is also the founder and director of ActivityX. For more information on Tom, see his trainer profile.