Fibre and gut-health research is fast becoming one of the most exciting and potentially important areas of healthy diet studies.
Think of fibre and you think of improved gut health and fibre does far more than just keep us regular.
Found in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, fibre is the part of the plant that cannot be broken down by the gut. Research has shown strong, convincing evidence that diets high in fibre may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.
Soluble Fibre, Insoluble Fibre and Resistant Starch
Dietary fibre is the indigestible cell wall of plants from all plants (not found in animal foods).
Our bodies are made up of trillions of human and bacteria cells, there are actually more bacteria cells than human cells. We need to look after these symbiotic good bacteria that perform many functions to support optimal health.
Good bacteria need fermentable fibres and resistant starches to be optimal.
The body needs different types of fibres to keep it healthy, each of with different actions in the gut.
A combination of the different types of fibre is important as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Soluble fibre is found in oats, oat bran, oranges, bananas, apples, carrots, berries, and legumes like beans, chickpeas and lentils) has two main benefits:
- Acts like a mop and helps absorb fluid in the gut, forming a soft, easy-to-pass stool.
- Ferments (after going through your stomach and small intestine undigested) and forms short-chain-fatty-acids (in your colon) that feed your friendly gut bacteria and pass into your bloodstream, liver and body. Many fibres appear to have antioxidant properties.
Resistant starch is not really a fibre, however, it acts similar to soluble fibre. i.e. not digested, forms a short-chain fatty acid in your colon and feeds the good gut bacteria and can be absorbed by the body with good health benefits. There are four main types usually found in some raw, unripe or cooled fruits and veg (grains, seeds, legumes, green banana, cooled potatoes and rice).
Insoluble fibre acts like a broom, roughly sweeping through the length of the gut to remove waste. Found naturally in whole grains, whole-wheat products like high fibre bread, bran, brown rice, nuts, seeds, and the skin of fresh produce, insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water.
Why Fibre May Be Cancer Protective
There are a few reasons why fibre may be cancer-protective.
Firstly, diets low in fibre tend to be naturally higher in red meat and fat which can cause enzymes in the colon to break down into cancer-causing carcinogens.
Also, low fibre diets often tend to be full of ultra-refined, processed and junk foods. Another reason is linked to the role of fibre in the glycaemic index (or GI), which is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is broken down and absorbed by the body.
For good health, we should choose foods that are mostly low GI and only use high GI foods in exercise.
There is a range of factors that influence the GI. One factor is the amount of fibre in the food, which is why most fibre-rich foods are naturally low GI.
There is a lot of evidence to show that a low GI diet (because of the fibre) may lower the risk of cancer, as well help manage a healthy weight, one of the recommendations for cancer prevention.
Added to this, fibre-rich foods (i.e. fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes like beans, chickpeas, and lentils) are naturally nutrient-rich, too, boosting our nutrient intake for an overall healthier diet for cancer.
Overall, the World Cancer Research Fund concluded that fruit and veggies probably protect against cancers of the airways such as mouth, throat, larynx (voice box) and sinuses.
Many people avoid fibre, thinking that it’s not important in the diet or that it may rip the gut lining.
However, there is strong and consistent scientific support that a high fibre diet can help manage many diseases and illness such as certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and even assist with weight loss and weight management.
How Can I Meet my Fibre Needs?
Research has shown that many South Africans fall short of their recommended fibre intake each day.
We need to aim for 25g and 38g of fibre per day for women and men, respectively.
Some Hunter-gatherer tribes eat as much as 100g of fibre per day.
Reaching our fibre needs can be challenging with South Africans may eat as little as 18g of fibre per day.
Reading food labels is a great tool to help reach your fibre needs. A product is “high” in fibre when it has more than 6g of fibre per 100g of the product, and 3g if a “source of” fibre.
Try choosing meals and snacks with the highest fibre possible.
Choosing a high fibre breakfast (like bran or oats) is a great place to start, as is swapping out all fibre-poor refined starches (e.g. white bread, white pasta, white rice, sugar, etc) for wholegrain, unprocessed options (e.g. wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta, oats, bran, etc).
The FitChef EatClean Range Difference
You do need to eat a wide range of real foods (whole foods) to help you reach a fibre target.
Refined, fibre-poor starches are a no-no at FitChef. We choose to include only fibre-rich starches such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice, and quinoa.
FitChef meals are also loaded with a variety of fruit and vegetables for a fibre- and nutrient boost.
The South African dietary guidelines recommend that we eat at least five portions (400g) of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day.
A diet rich in fibre from fruit and vegetables would naturally be rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, so it is a win-win situation to choose high fibre, nutrient-rich FitChef meals and snacks as part of a healthy, everyday diet.
- Bradbury KE, Appleby PN, and Key TJ. Fruit, vegetable, and fibre intake in relation to cancer risk: findings from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014;100(suppl):394S–8S.
- Naude CE. Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for South Africa: The “Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day”. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013;26(3)(Supplement):S46-S56.
- Mchiza ZJ et al. A Review of Dietary Surveys in the Adult South African Population from 2000 to 2015. Nutrients. 2015;7:8227-50.
- Government Gazette. R429 Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 Of 1972). Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs. Department of Health, 2014.
- Chen, G.C., Tong, X., Xu, J.Y., Han, S.F., Wan, Z.X., Qin, J.B, and Qin, L.Q. (2016) Whole-grain intake and total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr, 104: pp. 164–72.
- Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Whole grains, vegetables and fruit and the risk of cancer. Available at http://www.dietandcancerreport.org.
- Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Body fatness and weight and the risk of cancer. Available at http://www.dietandcancerreport.org.