When you consider the longest lived people don't always have the best diet but the greatest intake of fibre, it seems the answer is yes.
In this article, we'll look at:
- Transit time
- The types of fibre we need
- How to easliy increase your fibre intake
If movement is essential for life, there is no movement more important that that of your bowels. We often hear it said, we need to eat more fibre, but do you understand why it’s so important?
Do you agree that movement is required for life?
Water without movement will stagnate, unless it has some sort of filtration system. Even those who eat a healthy, well balanced diet can struggle with excessive weight if they do little or no exercise.
Think of fibre as our internal workout, it’s the only form of exercise some organs and systems in the body receive.
Most ancient cultures referred to the digestive systems as a 'River of Life' or a 'River of Death'. It’s interesting to note that in the parts of the world where people live the longest, referred to as ‘Blue Zones’, they aren’t considered to have the best diet in comparison to what we’re told causes health concerns, but they do have the highest regular intake of fibre. There are studies now that suggest it may not be what you eat, but how quickly it moves through your digestive system, the transit time.
Transit time is the time from eating to exiting out the other end. The longer the food stays in the digestive tract the more likely it is to decay and cause toxicity. Without fibre, the movement is created by a fully loaded and backed up canal, very slow moving. So we need a diet high in quality fibre to reduce the transit time, and collect the toxins and debris on the way, to ensure a clear digestive canal.
I couldn’t find the statistics for an average Australian to outline the differences in transit time, but we’re in the same league as The United States, so I’ll use them to provide this comparison.
- The average American experiences transit time of 3 days to 2 week even if they are having 2-3 bowel movements per day
- In most ‘third world’ countries, people experience 8-35 hours transit time
- Globally, the normal adult average transit time is 36-48 hours
- Women are on average 24% slower than men in their digestive transit time
To help you understand why these statistics might be so, I’ll tell you what does not contain fibre. No animal products contain any fibre. Now I’m not saying this in an attempt to convert anyone to a plant based eating, but for you to understand the importance of ensuring you are consuming good quality fibre with these foods. And sorry, but white bread, white wheat and most other highly processed common accompaniments, contain little to no fibre. You need to incorporate raw or lightly cooked vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. It doesn’t have to be in the same meal, just ensure it’s a regular part of your daily food intake.
Dietary fibre is what we often hear refered to as 'roughage'. It's the part of plant foods that cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes and falls into two categories.
Soluble Fibre dissolves in water forming a jelly like substance that helps to carry the food we eat from the mouth, all the way through our digestive system and out the other end, kind of like the lubricant. It helps us feel fuller for longer and reduces the likelihood of constipation, it's these fibres that ferment and feed the bacteria and microbioligy of the large intestine to support gastrointestinal health. Interesting to note that soluble fibre also helps to reduce bloating the in the stomach because it doesn't allow the body to absorb excess faty acids, which is why it's said to help reduce cholesterol and keep blood sugars in check. It's found in varying quantities in all plant foods with higher levels being found in oats, chia, rye, barley, legumes, berries, apple skins, root vegetables, psyllium, flax and almonds.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water but will absorb plenty of it and because it can't be broken down by stomach acids, it carries this water all the way through your digestive system which is crucial for the fermentation of the soluble fibre. This is how it helps to soften the contents of your bowels and support healthy bowel movements. It’s found in whole grains, brans, nuts, seeds, the skins of potatoes and some fruits including tomatoes, grapes and kiwi, and some vegetables like celery, green beans, cauliflower and zucchini.
We need 25-30g of fibre every day, but statistics show that most people are lucky to get 9 grams per day. To give you something to work from, eating one small to medium sized apple with its skin on will provide you with close to 5g of fibre.
Given that lack of fibre in the diet contributes to more than 50 symptoms, ailments and illnesses, intestinal management is probably the most important thing a person can learn in a health building routine.
Some easy ways to get more fibre:
- Cut up some veggie sticks for quick snacks and help to avoid the packaged foods. They're also great with hummus for added fibre
- Include a handful of nuts as a snack or add chopped to a salad, veggies, soup or curry for added crunch as well
- Where appropriate, don't remove the skin of your fruit or vegetables
- Swap white for whole grain, and anything that is 'quick' for the original version
- Remember that processing will remove fibre so the less processed the more of the original fibre content remains
Now you understand the function of fibre, especially in relation to the absorbtion of water, it's important to ensure you also increase your water consumption. Although in saying this, if your increase in fibre is coming from fresh fruits and vegetables, you'll naturally increase your water consumption with their water content....but a few extra glasses of water won't hurt.
If you want to increase your fibre intake without the worry, take a look at the meals I offer to ensure you have a good stock of helathy, high fibre meals to encorporate into your weekly meal plan.