Up your fibre intake, for health's sake
Most of us know that we need fibre in our diets to keep things "moving" and keep our guts healthy.
We know that fibre is found in fruits and vegetables, cereals and legumes. Most of us still don't get nearly enough fibre - far less than what's recommended as an adequate intake, let alone the higher levels suggested for optimum health.
We all need to up our game in this area, and not just to help our digestion and lower our risk of bowel cancer (a major killer of Kiwis). We also need fibre to keep the population of bacteria we carry around in our guts - trillions of microbes in each of us - in good form.
The health of our gut bacteria affects our overall health in myriad ways that science is still only discovering. What's emerging is the view that if we want to stay healthy and happy, we need to keep our microbial passengers healthy and happy, too.
Good microbes in our guts ferment the fibre we eat to produce nutrients for the cells that line the bowel, helping keep the bowel healthy. They help keep the correct pH balance in the large intestine, making it a beneficial environment for intestinal cells. They make our stools bulkier and easier to pass. And they crowd out any nasty bacteria that enter the digestive tract, preventing them from multiplying and making us sick.
So how to keep our microbes happy? We need fibre, but not just that - we need different types of fibre. Just eating lots of fruit and veges won't do it - we need to mix it up with fibre from a range of sources.
The main types of fibre are soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre slows the time it takes food to pass through the stomach and small intestine, which helps with the absorption of nutrients. It's found in oats, barley, psyllium, fruits with the skin on, vegetables and legumes.
Insoluble fibre speeds up the time it takes for waste to move through the large intestine, which helps produce larger, softer stools and reduces the time toxins stay in the bowel. Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrain cereals, pasta, rice and quinoa.
Another important sub-type of fibre is resistant starch. It's found in very specific foods including legumes, firm bananas and cold, cooked pasta and potatoes. Resistant starch is fermented by good bacteria in the bowel, which produces short-chain fatty acids (a type of fat) that are important for the health of cells in the bowel, and our overall health. It seems those of us eating a typical western diet probably don't get enough resistant starch, compared with people in countries where the diet revolves around whole plant foods.
The moral of the story here is (as with many healthy food tales): Eat a wide variety of good, whole food. And maybe include a little potato salad!
Niki Bezzant is a healthy cooking expert and the editor of Healthy Food Guide magazine. Latest issue on sale now.
If you have a question for Niki, email editor@ healthyfood.co.nz with SST in the subject line.
Sunday Star Times