Most people struggle to get enough fibre in their diets – yet it’s a vitally important part of a healthy diet, especially for those who suffer from IBS.
Government guidelines recommend 30g daily, yet most people only manage about 18g. What complicates the matter further is that there are different types of fibre, with varying benefits. The world of fibre can be a very confusing one - understanding the different types and how to include the most beneficial ones in your diet is an important step towards improving IBS symptoms. We’ve put together a simple guide to help you to get the most out of adding more fibre into your diet.
What is fibre?
Dietary fibre is a form of carbohydrate found in plants that isn’t digested by enzymes in our small intestine. Most people know they need to eat plenty of fibre for healthy digestion and elimination but it does so much more than that. Fibre helps to support blood sugar balance and energy levels, speeds up the removal of waste and harmful toxins from the body, provides vital fuel for friendly bacteria, regulates bowel action thus reducing the risk of colon cancer and reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome too. Getting more fibre in your diet is also associated with improved cardiovascular health – soluble fibre in particular has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.
Insoluble vs soluble fibre
There are two main types of fibre: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. We need both types in our diets but soluble fibre has been shown to be particularly helpful for reducing and preventing symptoms of IBS such as diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps and painful, excessive wind. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and absorbs excess liquid in the colon, forming a thick gel and adding a great deal of bulk as it passes intact through the gut. This can help to slow digestion and so supports blood sugar balance and energy levels.
Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water. This is the type that most people would associate with a high fibre diet such as wheat bran and fruit and vegetable skin. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool and appears to help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines.
Many foods contain both types of fibre but usually contain more of one type than another. The easiest way to tell them apart is to think of it like this: soluble fibre absorbs water, turning into a gel-like mush (picture what happens when you add water to oatmeal) while insoluble fibre doesn’t (picture the result when you add water to celery). Insoluble fibre is often found in the tougher outer portion of plant foods (skin, husk, hull), whereas soluble fibre is often found in the softer, pulpy, inner portion. For example, apple skin is high in insoluble fibre whereas the pulp is higher in the soluble form.
Using fibre to prevent or reduce symptoms of IBS:
• Gradually increase intake of foods rich in soluble fibre - A sudden increase in fibre can cause stomach cramps and excessive, often painful wind so make sure you take it slowly.
• Drink plenty of water – soluble fibre dissolves in water so dehydration can inhibit its beneficial effects.
• Add extra soluble fibre in supplement form – psyllium husk, apple pectin and pureed papaya are great sources of soluble fibre that IBS sufferers may benefit from.
Foods rich in soluble fibre:
Oats, oatmeal, rice, barley, beans, lentils, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bananas, apple pectin, pureed papaya, psyllium seed husk, gently steamed vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrots.
Foods rich in insoluble fibre
Wheat bran, wheat products (such as cereals, pasta, bread, pitta, wraps, biscuits), corn bran, potato skins, some vegetables such as green beans, cauliflower, courgette and celery, unripe bananas and tomato skins.