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Although there are many different types of fibre, they all fall into two main groups, soluble which dissolves in water and insoluble which doesn’t dissolve and each group benefits your body in different ways.
When soluble fibre dissolves it forms a gel in the gut. Soluble fibres such as beta-glucans and pectins, can help reduce blood cholesterol, so eating plenty of foods like oats, fruit, root vegetables and pulses is a good idea, particularly if you know you have a high cholesterol level or other risk factors for heart disease.
Good sources of insoluble fibre is found in whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes.
Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods, so by eating a wide variety of high fibre foods you will benefit the most. Unlike fats, proteins or carbohydrates, which your body breaks down and absorbs, fibre isn’t digested by your body but passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body.
Dietary fibre has many health benefits, apart from reducing your risk of heart disease, reducing blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers, helping with weight control, it is also important for digestive health – insoluble fibre bulks up stools and makes waste move through the digestive tract more quickly, which is better for the gut and can help to prevent constipation. Some types of fibre can be fermented by gut bacteria, producing substances that appear to be good for gut health and helping waste products to move more quickly through the gut. Providing ‘food’ for gut bacteria can also help increase the number of healthy bacteria in the gut.
High fibre foods tend to be more filling making it likely you will eat less and stay satisfied longer. They also tend to take longer to eat and to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
The soluble fibre found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. In people with diabetes, fibre, particularly soluble fibre, can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels and by having a healthy diet including insoluble fibre may also reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
If you need to increase your fibre intake, it is a good idea to so gradually, especially from foods providing insoluble fibre. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids and to try to be active. Your personal trainer can help you with the best diet and exercise plan to benefit your lifestyle. Good examples of high fibre foods are all types of beans, whole grain and whole meal, for example whole grain pasta, bread and rice. Pulses such as lentils and chickpeas are again high fibre, they are also high in protein and low in fat. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pecans are all high in fibre. If you eat a jacket potato make sure you eat the skin as this is the fibre, and dried fruit such as figs are also a good source. Porridge made from oats is a good fibre cereal to start the day, but any bran based cereal would be a healthy option. And don’t forget your veg and fruit portions, and although raw veg contains more fibre they are often harder to digest. But apples are up the top of the fruit list so make sure you have your apple a day!