You might already have your intake of carbohydrates, protein and fat under control, but are you aware of fibre and how much you eat of it? Even if fibre does not count as a macro nutrient, it is still important to get the right amount of it.
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate found in vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils and wholemeal foods. It will pass intact through the body, its job being to increase the volume of the intestines and prevent constipation. Dietary fibre also helps us to feel full. Research has shown that the risk of developing certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease decreases if you consume fibre. Fibre has received a lot of attention recently, since we have started talking about how it affects the gut flora and intestinal bacteria. The bacteria of the intestinal system play an important role when it comes to your immune system and gut health, and for balancing energy requirements.
There is insoluble and soluble fibre:
- Insoluble fibre can be found in wholemeal products (such as wholemeal bread), or bran (wheat bran, coarse wheat bran, oat bran, and so on). This will not be broken down in the gut, but will simply absorb large amounts of fluid.
- Soluble fibre can be found in berries, linseed, psyllium seeds, fruit, vegetables and oats. The soluble fibre ferments in the large intestine and feeds the gut bacteria. When the fibre is broken down, short-chain fatty acids are created.
Does fibre provide calories?
The short-chain fatty acids provide energy for the body. Since humans can’t digest fibre, it is generally assumed that fibre doesn’t provide calories and shouldn’t be counted as carbohydrates or as energy.
But that’s wrong.
The truth is that (through bacterial fermentation), more than half of the fibre you eat might contribute to your daily energy intake. Assume around 2 calories/g of fibre.
How short-chained fatty acids affect your health
- Improved glucose metabolism
- Improved fat burning
- Higher energy consumption
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved immune system
- Reduced appetite
By feeding the gut bacteria and changing the gut flora to a more diverse and favourable environment, the fibre can affect your health and even your metabolism.
It’s important to keep things in perspective. Many factors affect the gut flora, apart from the fibre. That includes genes, gender, environment, antibiotics usage, stress and hormones. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and your total daily calorie consumption will also play a role. It is a well-known fact that an excessive calorie intake combined with a sedentary lifestyle will have a considerably negative effect on gut health!
Tips on how to increase your fibre intake
Many people are now aware that they ought to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. But some of us don’t like vegetables, so what do you do then? You sneak vegetables into your food! Here are our best tips, some of which ought to work for you:
- Make stews with meat, potatoes, root vegetables, beans and lentils as a base.
- Grate carrots and courgettes, and add mushrooms to your Bolognese sauce.
- Swap normal pasta for bean pasta.
- Are you making mash? Mix in boiled cauliflower or parsnip.
- Soups are a great way of consuming vegetables. There are tasty cold and hot soups. Avocado soup, spinach soup, leek and potato soup, goulash, and so on. Substantial soups are also very filling!
- Try swapping lasagne for moussaka (a Greek version made with potatoes and aubergine).
- Have a day when you only eat vegetarian food (take care to choose vegetarian ingredients that are high in protein, such as beans, edamame and lentils).
- Make wraps with lettuce leaves instead of bread, always opt for wholemeal bread otherwise.
- When you have porridge, boost it with berries and fruit.
- When making an omelette, top it with spinach, tomato and sweet pepper.
- Are you already eating greens? Just double up on what you’re eating. It’s a very simple way of increasing your intake!
- Are you having sandwiches? Try hummus or tapenade (olive paste) instead of butter. Add avocado, tomato, lettuce and sweet pepper rings.
- Do you like pizza? Make the base with cauliflower or broccoli!
- Make pancakes with sweet potatoes or banana (we have the recipes).
- Make big fruit salads to have with your quark (no tinned fruit).
- Try a new vegetable each week, for example kohlrabi if you’ve been eating cabbage for a while.
- Keep a fruit bowl out, both at home and at work.
- Make desserts with fruit and berries! For example, hot fruit bake with melted white chocolate or dip fresh berries or fruit in dark chocolate!
- Go for salads! I always use spinach as a base, and then add whatever I feel like. It could be blue cheese, walnuts and apple pieces, or tomato, basil and goat’s cheese, and so on!
- Make dips and dressings using greens! Guacamole, tapenade, hummus or tzatziki. You will find recipes for these in our recipe collection!
- Go for smoothies! You can make lots of things with berries, fruit and vegetables, but keep a protein-rich base, such as quark or protein powder. Children also like smoothies.
- If you fancy an evening snack, a classic trick is to make a dip with vegetable sticks.
- Fancy some crisps? Make your own from sweet potato, apple or beetroot. Dry them, don’t deep-fry them in oil!