With the recent World Microbiome Day, the focus has been turned on dietary fibre and why it’s beneficial to us and our health.
According to the European Food Information Council, dietary fibre is not one specific compound, but a complex group of many compounds found in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and pulses. Put simply, fibre can be defined as carbohydrates that cannot be fully digested in our gut.
There are generally four different groups of dietary fibres found in foods: non-starch long carbohydrates are structural parts of most fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, beans, and nuts; resistant mid-long carbohydrates such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). GOS is often found in seaweeds and FOS is found in vegetables such as chicory, onions, and asparagus; resistant starch is a form of starch that cannot be digested in the small intestine. It is found in foods such as bananas, potatoes, grains, pulses and seeds; and lignin, an exception to the simple definition of fibre as it is technically not a carbohydrate but is considered a fibre. Lignin is found in root vegetables such as carrots and turnips, as well as nuts and seeds.
The council added that fibre intake is linked to relieving constipation, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (the benefit depends on the type of fibre). High fibre diets are also associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, while fibre-rich diets make us feel fuller for longer periods after a meal, which means we consume less food. Other areas fibre is linked to in terms of being beneficial includes oral health, gut health and the microbiome, and mental health.
The experts advise that to up your fibre intake, you should choose whole grain over refined grain products, add vegetables to every meal, go for beans and legumes as meat alternatives, opt for fruit snacks, and snack on nuts and seeds in between meals.