Find out why there's more to dietary fibre than just keeping our bowels in good shape
If you're constipated, suffer diverticular disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are diabetic or struggling with overweight, then the right kind of fibre could make all the difference to how you feel
If you're constipated, suffer diverticular disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are diabetic or struggling with overweight, then the right kind of fibre could make all the difference to how you feel
Don't ignore the benefits of this absolutely essential health food
On this page ►
WHAT IS DIETARY FIBRE?
HOW DOES FIBRE HELP OUR HEALTH?
WHERE DO WE FIND FIBRE?
WHERE ISN'T IT FOUND?
WHEAT BASED FOODS - WHY THEY CAN BE A PROBLEM
WHAT'S THE DIFF BETWEEN FLAX AND PSYLLIUM
HOW TO TAKE FLAX AND/OR PSYLLIUM HUSK FIBRE
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BRAND
WHAT ABOUT FIBRE SUPPLEMENTS?
ADVICE ON KEEPING REGULAR
TWELVE TOP FIBRE TIPS - easy ways to increase your fibre intake
A-Z - WHICH ARE THE BEST FOODS FOR FIBRE?
IT'S A SCARY FACT that most of us don’t get anywhere near to the levels of dietary fibre that we need to maintain good health; in fact, it seems large numbers of people may be consuming only a quarter – or less - of the fibre they actually need. And that can be extremely dangerous.
Well, lack of fibre in the diet is known to increase the likelihood not only of constipation, haemorrhoids and anal fissures but may also be linked to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and a range of bowel and digestive disorders including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis. And it's a known risk factor in the growing epidemic of colon cancer. Even if this list of extremely unpleasant and hard to deal with diseases doesn’t persuade you that consuming the right kind of fibre is absolutely vital, consider this simple fact: Getting a daily fibre fix can also be an important key to healthy and effective weight loss, too.
SO WHAT IS DIETARY FIBRE?
I guess you might think of it as a broom that helps to push faeces along the length of the large colon, preventing a build up of solids and keeping the contents of the bowel moving and the walls of the tube free and clear from putrid wastes. Most people know this already and it’s the reason why, for at least the last thirty years, ‘eat more fibre’ has been at the top of the healthy-things-to-do list. However, more recent research has shown us that this very special food category has much more to offer than merely a talent for swabbing and sweeping our personal sewage department! Many of the benefits can now be linked to the positive effects that different types of fibres (and also some special food substances known as prebiotics) have on our gut bugs. The ‘proper’ nutritional name for dietary fibre is the rather dull sounding term Non-Starch Polysaccharides. Because it’s also sometimes referred to as ‘roughage’, it does rather give the impression that it’s tough and stringy stuff. But many so-called ‘fibres’ are not actually fibrous at all; in fact, a lot of them are really more like gum or gel.
You may already know that there are two main types of fibre. One is called insoluble, meaning that although it needs fluid in order to do its work efficiently while passing through the bowel, it’s not able to actually absorb water. Then there's soluble fibre, the word 'soluble' indicating that it does dissolve in water. This doesn't meant that one type of fibre is better than another, though. Nearly all plants have some of both kinds – it’s just that some have more soluble or more insoluble fibre, and that they each therefore behave differently in the gut.
WHERE DO WE FIND FIBRE?
Dietary fibre is found only in foods of plant origin. These include cereals, fruits, pulses (legumes), seeds, nuts, vegetables and wholegrains. Fresh fruit is also a great source. So are fruit and vegetable juices but only if they include some or all of the original pulp.
AND WHERE ISN’T IT FOUND?
Refined grains, such as those used to produce white flour, have little or no fibre. Animal-sourced foods such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, butter and cheese contain zippo. In other words, just because – for example – a piece of meat might seem ‘fibrous’ as in stringey or gristly – it doesn’t actually contain any of what we know as dietary fibre.
HERE'S HOW CAN FIBRE IMPROVE OUR HEALTH
HOW MUCH FIBRE DO WE NEED EVERY DAY?
Recommendations vary widely from country to country and which organisation you turn to for information. For example, in the UK, the minimum fibre intake for adults has been set at 18 grams per day. In the United States, 19g and 38g daily are the minimum and maximum figures. Australia pitches much higher at 35g – 45g. If you really need to know how much fibre a particular food contains, there are plenty of tables, books and charts available both in libraries and on the Internet.
All packaged foods in the UK must tell you how much fibre is included in the product – so that’s just one of the many really good reasons why it's worth becoming an avid label reader. The tips and lists further on in this article should help you to up your fibre intake without needing to count anything.
SO WHAT TO CHOOSE?
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FLAX AND PSYLLIUM?
They’re both great sources of dietary fibre. A rounded tablespoon of whole psyllium husk or of whole flaxseed both contain around 3 grams of fibre. Psyllium is super stuff and has many benefits but flax (also known as linseed) is also regarded as great quality gut conditioner. Some people find they like flax fibre better, others prefer psyllium. There’s nothing wrong with using both psyllium and flax, as long as you remember the importance of taking enough water with them. I have a morning routine at home where I alternate the two; I use Lepicol one day and Linwoods Milled Flax the next so I get the best of both worlds!
PSYLLIUM is not absorbed by the body and has no particular nutrient value by itself. Unlike flax, it has no omega 3, antioxidant or lignan (phyto-oestrogen) content. It does its job by taking up excess water in the colon and acting as a natural laxative, bulking the stools and making them easier to pass.
I've seen it written that psyllium can cause bloating and gut pain but I think it depends entirely on the product you choose. My experience with patients very strongly suggests that it’s more likely to be the ‘refined’ isphagula products (often given out on prescription) which are most likely to be the culprits here and not the natural whole psyllium husk. In addition, good quality whole psyllium when it's combined with probiotics can be extremely helpful and beneficial for the gut, especially for people suffering diverticulitis, constipation, tummy upset and irritable bowel problems. If you’re prone to constipation, remember than psyllium is way better than laxatives tablets. That's why Lepicol (see opposite) is so brilliant - and it has the benefit of added probiotics too.
IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER -
DON'T GET DEHYDRATED
I have come across some reports suggesting that people might get dehydrated when using fibre products but if that happens, it's most probably because they didn’t take enough water with it. Psyllium and flax absorb large quantities of water and, like any dietary fibre, it can be dangerous to use it if you are not prepared to up your fluid intake.
FLAX is a good vegetarian source of omega 3, the same type we get from oily fish. Quality flax fibre also contains important substances known as lignans which I’ve talked about in more detail in Good Gut Bugs and also in two links that you might find interesting on Kathryn’s Favourite Products pages where I’ve recommended Bionutri Estrolignan and Linwoods Organic Milled Flaxseed.
Whole flax seed acts simply as a fibre, just like psyllium, because few if any of the whole seeds are broken down during their journey through the digestive tract. They just slither their way through the tubes, cleaning as they go and then appear out the other end. When you’re taking whole flax seed, then you’ll often see evidence of complete seeds in your poo. To get the nutritional benefits from flax, you need to use milled flax, not whole seed. I have used both milled and whole flaxseed (depending on the type of condition being treated) for years with my own patients and witnessed some wonderful successes, in particular with lowering blood fats, cholesterol and blood pressure, diverticulitis, constipation, some menopausal symptoms and weight control.
For best results with flax, just follow these important points:
First of all, ignore cheap brands and buy the best that you can afford. The better ones will be vacuumed sealed. Flax is very susceptible to contamination by daylight, heat and air, all of which degrade the special oils that it contains – that’s why it makes sense to avoid any brands that are sold loose or in regular see-through or non-vacuum packaging. If you come across linseed/flax, either milled or whole, which seems to be a real bargain then I’d say the chances are that it won’t be. For example, the usually cheap linseed sold in clear packets specificially for baking is not the nutritionally beneficial flax that I’m talking about here. Even if the seed was of good quality to begin with, the oils are already probably degraded which means that they won’t be good for you.
Some people prefer to buy whole seed because they say that it’s less likely to have degraded than seed that is already milled. And of course you can grind the seed yourself as and when you need it. But this only applies if the seed is top quality to begin with and, in any event, I know a lot of people who reckon they only just about make time to swallow their breakfast, never mind finding extra valuable minutes to grind up seeds every morning. Another thing to keep in mind is that whole seeds may not be suitable for some people with a very sensitive gut or who have been advised by their doctor to avoid seeded foods. My personal preference is for quality vacuum-sealed organic milled seed which I find very helpful for people with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
WORTH KNOWING: if you add flax seed to hot food or use it in baking, you will still get the beneficial fibre but chances are that the valuable oils will have been spoiled by the heat and have lost their nutritional benefits.
HAVING PROBLEMS KEEPING REGULAR WHEN YOU ARE AWAY FROM HOME? WHY NOT TRY FIBRE CAPSULE SUPPLEMENTS?
If you follow the advice in this chapter there should be no need to take fibre in the form of capsules. However, they can be useful in certain circumstances. For example, if you're going to be away from home, in hospital or on holiday - all situations where the bowels can be temporarily temperamental - then fibre supplements are easy to pack and simple to take. You might choose a brand which contains just fibre or a better alternative could be to go for those which have psyllium together with other supportive ingredients such as probiotics, barberry bark, burdock root, clove, garlic and bentonite clay, all excellent for a sluggish colon. These ‘extras’ are also valuable in cases of stubborn constipation where, occasionally, even the most fibrous diet won't shift the waste. Remember that the same advice about fluid intake applies here. Never use fibre supplements without drinking plenty of water. There are lots of really good products on the market from reliable suppliers and manufacturers. I've included some of my favourites on this page and in the link below.
To read more about fibre supplements, click this link:
Dietary Fibre 'ON THE MOVE'
Always keep flax and psyllium products
in a cool place,
preferably in a sealed container
in the fridge. Even if it says you don't need to refrigerate, keeping the product cool
will extend its shelf life.
EVEN MORE IMPORTANT:
Remember that dietary fibre needs fluid if it is to work properly and safely.
So always take plenty of water with your fibre supplement. And try to drink at least 4 full tumblers of fluid every day in addition to any teas, soups and juices.
TWELVE TOP FIBRE TIPS
Widen your horizons! Don’t fall into the trap of
limiting yourself to just a few familiar favourites. This is really important because the most beneficial effects are likely to come from including combinations of different prebiotic and fibrous foods. As a start, why not add an extra vegetable to your main meal of the day? Most people who say they don’t enjoy vegetables will still manage to eat potatoes and peas and, although there’s nothing wrong with either of these foods, sticking with familiar foods means your diet could be lacking not only in variety but also in some essential vitamins and minerals.
A SIMPLE SOLUTION? Every time you go to the grocery store, market or supermarket, try a different vegetable or fruit, one that you haven’t tried before. And don’t forget that frozen fruits and vegetables still contain worthwhile dietary fibre and are good standbys when fresh equivalents are unavailable. You can find out more about the importance of prebiotics in my book Good Gut Bugs.
Add extras to your lunch. Go beyond cucumber, tomato and iceberg; think about adding avocado pear, beansprouts, beetroot, grated carrot and dark leaf lettuce. (Wash all vegetables and salad foods really thoroughly before use). Sprinkle a few sunflower, sesame or pumpkin seeds. Remember that fresh herbs can lift a salad from the ordinary to extraordinary. If the weather seems too chilly for salad on its own, why not eat it alongside a hot dish such as home made vegetable soup, jacket potato or brown rice and beans.
Make fresh vegetable soup. Then it’s available for lunch or for putting into a flask for taking to work or when you’re on the road. Even if you don’t like vegetables or you don’t like to cook, it’s the easiest thing in the world to throw some carrot, onion, garlic, butternut squash, parsnip and potato into a pan, simmer until tender and blend into smooth soup. A can or jar of cooked lentils thrown into the mix adds flavour, fibre and sustenance – nourishing, incredibly tasty, cheap to produce and loaded with those all important prebiotics.
Try to include one or two pieces of fresh fruit – or one piece of fruit and a fresh juice - every day. Invest in a juicer but make sure to choose one that retains all the pulp so that you don't lose out on the fibre. If you have an ordinary juice extractor, then mix back some of the pulp into the juice before you drink it or you can you use a regular blender or food processor instead. Even if you discard the peel, you’ll still get all that really healthy soluble fibre from the soft pulp. Just add some water so that the blender blades turn smoothly. Another plus point here is that you can ‘lose’ two pieces of fruit into one juice drink and, there you are, straight away you’ve achieved two of your daily minimum of five servings.
Use plenty of pulses. Add beans and lentils to soups, casseroles and salads. Try original baked beans (not low cal) as a filling snack. Make hummus paste with chickpeas, garlic and olive oil. Stock the store cupboard with canned pulses and chuck them into all kinds of dishes. A tin of butter beans, chick peas or lentils, rinsed thoroughly and whizzed in a blender, makes a fabulously healthy thickener for soups, sauces and gravies.
If they’re available in your area, buy organic potatoes (new or old) and eat them in their skins. Ordinary non-organic spuds? Well it’s up to you. I prefer not to eat the skins because I’m concerned about the sprays that are used. Cold cooked potatoes are rich in a different kind of fibre called resistant starch; this means that cold spuds can be more fibrous. So how about a delicious potato salad with chopped fried onion, chopped chives and a splash of dressing made with extra virgin olive oil? Or use sweet potatoes as a nutritious change.
Instead of biscuits, cakes, chocolate and crisps (called chips in the U.S.), snack on fibre-rich foods such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, carrots, apples, small amounts of dried fruit and, unless you’re allergic to them, Brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts.
Make your own breakfast cereal. Try to steer clear of packaged breakfast cereals unless you’re sure they contain wholesome ingredients. Check the labels on most of them and you’ll generally find wheat and sugar near the top of the list. Even those made with rice and corn can be really high in added, often artificial sweetening. Oats not only make great porridge, they’re a wonderful prebiotic food to use as a base for home-made muesli. Add chopped nuts, seeds and dried fruit plus a spoonful of plain full fat (yes, full fat!) Greek yoghurt for a healthy, sustaining breakfast. Or soak dried fruit such as apricots, prunes and figs and serve with yoghurt for fabulous fibre, plenty of nutrients and a sweet treat all in the same bowl.
Up your intake of water. Yes, I know that water isn’t fibrous but I’ve included it in this top twelve list because it’s vital in helping your body to process your new high fibre prebiotic diet. Drink a glass of water before each meal as well. It helps the fibre to work and the diet to be more effective more quickly. Introduce flax or psyllium husk every day with a glass of water or juice (more on this in the right hand column near the top of this page).
Swap boiled or mashed potatoes for jacket spuds, white pasta for wholegrain pasta (durum semolina is often better tolerated than the wheat found in cereals or bread but where possible, go for organic kamut or spelt pasta instead), white rice for brown rice and refined cereals for whole oats or muesli.
Sit down to your meals and chew every mouthful thoroughly. This is really important for helping the breakdown of the fibre and assisting digestion. There’s a chapter in my book Good Gut Bugs called Good Gut Upgrade (Part 1, Chapter 2, from page 35) which I think you might find particularly helpful, especially if you have any digestive or bowel problems or are trying to lose weight. If you chew thoroughly, not only does this help to improve the way you digest and absorb your food, and reduce bloating, it also seems to have a beneficial effect on the metabolism in some cases.
Increase fibre intake slowly over a period of a few weeks. Aim to make up around two thirds of your daily food intake from a combination of wholegrains, fresh fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds and salad foods.
Dietary fibre is wonderful stuff and essential for our health but it won't work properly (or safely) if you don't drink enough fluid. Everyone should drink AN ABSOLUTE MINIMUM of six glasses or large cups of fluid a day (that would be water, natural juice or teas, not alcohol or coffee or soft drinks). But when you use a fibre product, such as Lepicol or Linwoods Milled Flax or Biocare Psyllium Intensive, then I recommend that you take a 250ml glass of fluid with EVERY scoop or tablespoon of powder. See the blue section HOW TO TAKE on the right hand side of this page.
Did you know that it can be dangerous to give very fibrous foods to children under five years of age. That’s because an infant gut hasn’t matured sufficiently to cope with excess amounts. That doesn’t mean they can’t handle or don’t need dietary fibre but care should be taken not to overload an immature digestive system with high intakes of insoluble fibre and to ensure that they’re given enough sugar-free fluids, preferably water. Elderly people who aren’t used to fibre should also be cautious. In later life, narrowing of the large intestine, reduced mobility, lack of fluid intake, poor diet or poor digestion can reduce the body's ability to cope with large amounts of fibre which could cause compaction, blockage, severe pain and even death. If a very young or elderly person is constipated, it’s best to consult the doctor or practice nurse before attempting to give laxatives or additional dietary fibre.
DIETARY FIBRE ON THE MOVE
When you're away from home and your normal routine and perhaps a different diet, it's not uncommon for bowels to get sluggish. One of the best remedies for this is to take a fibre supplement with you. But not all supplements are created equal and some can make matters worse. Click here for my recommendations.
LEPICOL is the new buzzword for healthy bowels. It's not only a really effective remedy for IBS sufferers but also a healthy addition to any diet. Lepicol is a gentle mixture of inulin (a fibrous plant material with PRE-biotic qualities), soothing psyllium husk and 5 strains of beneficial gut flora (what we call 'live' or 'friendly' bacteria) which help to ease bloating, relieve constipation and clean out accumulated waste. I'd also highly recommend Lepicol Lighter to patients who are trying to lose weight. (See more Lepicol products at the foot of this page).
Psyllium is an excellent source of gentle dietary fibre. On some product labels psyllium is also called 'isphagula' and will sometimes appear as an ingredient in pharmacy products prescribed for constipation. Several studies have shown psyllium to be helpful in lowering cholesterol and I have found it to be a useful part of any weight control diet because of its beneficial effect on blood sugar. There are plenty of good psyllium products on the market but I have to stick with my top choice which is Lepicol (read more further on in this column).
Psyllium is a water-retaining fibre which comes from the family of plants known as Plantago. The reason why the seed and husks are so beneficial is because they’re incredibly gentle on the gut, unlike wheat bran which is coarse and irritating. Like all good fibre, psyllium bulks the stool and eases the passage of waste through the large colon. It’s also considered a valuable natural, drug-free, internal cleanser and has, like milled flax, an adaptogenic and regulatory action that makes it equally useful for the treatment of diarrhoea, constipation, diverticulitis, haemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome. And in clinical studies approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the soluble fibre in psyllium is shown to lower cholesterol. There is evidence, too, that it may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Refined psyllium – also sometimes listed on the label as isphagula - is the one often used in prescription and over-the-counter fibre products. However, I always prefer to use whole psyllium husk because I think that (a) it works better and (b) is better tolerated by ultra sensitive intestines. Natural psyllium is a worthwhile alternative, especially for anyone with bowel disorders such as IBS or diverticular disease. Your independent health food store should stock psyllium-based products. Don’t forget to take psyllium with lots of water.
There are plenty of good psyllium products on the market but I have to stick with my top choice. The Lepicol range is easy on the digestion, contains valuable probiotic 'friendly flora' and is highly recommended for IBS sufferers. A soothing supplement, too, if you are recovering from a dose of 'jippy tummy' or bloating.
ALSO REALLY GOOD:
LINWOODS ORGANIC MILLED FLAXSEED is widely available throughout the UK and Europe. It can be found in independent health stores and via the Internet. Just type the name into your search engine and you’ll see several online stores. Prices vary widely so shop around before deciding. If you buy elsewhere, check that you’re getting organic milled flax before you checkout. For more information, go to www.linwoods.co.uk or to Kathryn's Favourite Products on this website. Keep Linwoods Flaxseed in a sealed container in the fridge.
LINUSIT GOLD is good quality whole seed, available from health stores and some supermarkets and online at www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.com and www.granovita.co.uk. It's another really excellent linseed/flax product. You can swallow the whole seed if you want to – they are very small and slide down easily with water. Fabulously fibrous, the seed passes through undigested and does a really good cleaning job, taking a whole load of waste products with it. However, my personal preference is to either grind the seeds or soak them before use. That way, you'll also get the nutritional benefits that come with milled flax. Just grind the recommended daily amount of seeds in a coffee grinder or food blender and mix them with that glass of all important water. Another way of taking them is to put the daily required amount into a fine strainer (so they don’t fall through the holes!) and rest it over a bowl of water until the seeds have swollen right up. Then you can either swallow them down with a drink, put them onto breakfast cereal or mix them into yoghurt. Or you can stir the seed into a large glass of water and simply drink it down making sure that you don't leave any seed behind. Keep Linusit Gold in a sealed container in the fridge.
www.avogel.co.ukLINOFORCE is a licensed herbal constipation remedy based on linseeds but, in this case, has added senna, a traditional plant remedy which can be especially helpful if bowels are really sluggish or faeces is dry. This is a useful product for anyone suffering the type of stubborn constipation which doesn't seem to respond to other treatments. I have used it very successfully in elderly patients with resistant constipation and also for people with diverticular disease. If you’ve had all the tests and been given a clean bill of health but are still suffering, try this product for a month. It’s also the one to choose if you’re recovering from surgery for haemorrhoids when every bowel movement feels like passing broken glass. Do bear in mind that a little Linoforce goes a very long way so try half a teaspoon per day to begin with and increase by ¼ teaspoons until an easy bowel movement is achieved. Because of the senna content being so laxative, it’s not advised that you use Linoforce long term unless you have discussed the dosage with your doctor. Again, if you’re pregnant, use it only with medical supervision. Never exceed the stated amount and don’t take it at the same time as other laxative preparations. For more information either click on the picture or go to www.avogel.co.uk Once you’re back to normal, you might think about keeping the Linoforce just for 'emergency' days when bowels are being especially difficult and trying Lepicol or Linwoods (above).
LEPICOL and LEPICOL LIGHTER
Lepicol Original in the famous green pack contains pre- and probiotics. and is available as capsules, powder or in sachets.
For more on Lepicol, Lepicol Plus and Lepicol Lighter,
go to www.lepicol.com 0044 (0)1460 243230
HOW TO TAKE
LINSEED/FLAX FIBRE OR PSYLLIUM FIBRE
It’s important to begin with a low dose so, whatever the pack instructions say, I would suggest starting with only one teaspoon of powder or seed with a decent sized glass of water first thing in the morning. Going slowly and working up to a full daily dose is better than being over-enthusiastic on day one and gives your body the chance to adjust.
After a few days, increase your daily intake to two teaspoonsful and, then, after a couple of weeks, perhaps to three teaspoons but always remember the importance of the water.
Even though it’s ok to add the fibre product to food, the risk is that you won’t drink enough water with it, simply because your appetite is satisfied and you may not feel you have enough room. So do be careful and make sure that you always include a large glass of water with your meal or do what I recommend to patients which is to take your flax and water together first thing in the morning. Water is vital in order for fibre to work properly.
CUT RIGHT BACK ON WHEAT
If your gut is sensitive and your bowel prone to bad behaviour, then try avoiding it altogether. Wheat is a troublesome food. Wheat bran is a VERY troublesome food. Wholewheat and wheat bran can be a valuable fibre source for some people but in others, this type of coarse fibre can be irritant and bloating. Experience with my own patients (and I hear similar comments from other practitioners, too) is that, for some, wheat-based foods can cause more problems than they solve. Why?
Well, one major reason is that we eat too much of the stuff.
If your diet regularly includes bread, toast, sandwiches, biscuits, wheat muesli, wheat bran crackers, cakes, pastry, pasta, pies, pizza bases, and sauces or gravies that are made with flour, you could find yourself eating some kind of wheat based food at almost every meal. It’s all too easy, without realising it, to rely on products that have refined white flour as a major ingredient. But it’s also the case that wholegrain wheat doesn’t suit everyone either. We’re all encouraged to believe that wholewheat foods and wheatbran are a good way to increase our intake of dietary fibre and so it is; but there are a few things to watch out for.
First of all, wheat can hamper weight loss and also cause discomfort and bloating. In addition, wheat bran fibre, especially that found in breakfast cereals mentioned above, is high in a substance known as phytic acid which, if taken in large amounts, can have a negative effect on the absorption of vitamin B3 (niacin) and certain minerals from the diet. You should be aware of this if you eat a lot of this type of fibre.
Take care, too, if you have a sensitive system. Wheat bran is still recommended by most doctors and dieticians as a useful dietary fibre even though it can be extremely unkind to a tender intestine. I find that many patients are puzzled when they have taken this kind of advice and increased their intake of bran fibre only to find themselves coping with a flare up of diverticular disease, IBS or piles and, in some cases, worsening constipation.
In the particular instance of irritable bowel syndrome, there’s good evidence that, although a high fibre diet can help, wheat fibre is not always the best choice. As I explain to my own patients, if you’re wheat-sensitive, using bran as your main source of roughage is a bit like expecting something with all the smoothness and charisma of a ball of Velcro™ to pass snag-free down the length of a 28-feet nylon stocking. Not the kind of thing you want if your gut is already a bit grouchy. Unfortunately for us wheat-sensitive souls, it’s a cheap and widely available cereal food that seems to be added to more or less everything. Sadly, it often sneaks into products without you realising it's there, so if you’re trying to steer clear of it, read every label. And be comforted by the fact that there are much better options available. See below and also check this link for my article How To Beat The Bloat which has more Wheat Alternatives and a special Red Alert section about agglutinin, a troublesome substance found in wheat.
Instead of relying on wheat, why not consider oats, whole rice crackers or rice cakes, porridge, oat muesli, oatcakes, buckwheat crackers, porridge, brown basmati rice, rye bread and Ryvita crispbread. The less well-known grains such as quinoa or kamut also make great - and very healthy - options. It may take a bit of sleuthing in specialist markets, delicatessens or health food stores but the effort is really worth it for the sake of your good gut bugs. Thankfully, many of the major supermarkets are now beginning to cater for people who prefer to avoid wheat.
Try wholegrain bread instead of white bread – but be careful here. I see so many people I see are wheat-sensitive that I’d rather you tried alternatives such as rice cakes, rye crackers or rye bread instead. They’re all great with savoury or sweet toppings. Try hummus, avocado, sliced tomato, cheese or honey. Even then, don’t rely totally on cereals for your daily quota. We need other kinds of fibre too, in particular from fruit and vegetables. That's another reason why it is really worth aiming for that minimum Five-a-Day.
Something important to bear in mind is that, just because something is high in fibre, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is helpful to your gut. The wheat thing above is a classic example of this. Corn, also called maize, is another fibrous food that can whip through you like a car on a racetrack but, for some people with sensitive systems, can also crash their digestion along the way. Whole corn products are VERY fibrous, around 5 grams in a mere half cup which is why you might see little yellow bits in your poo. So it may seem like a great idea to add corn to up your fibre scores. But NOT if you have a tender gut or suffer from food allergies. Consider cornflakes: Most people think they are good for you because they're 'fortified' but, in truth, most cornflake products are highly refined, lack decent fibre and are loaded with sugar. In my clinical experience, corn is a problem food for many people which is why it doesn't appear in my list of foods below.
Which foods for fibre?
There are so many good sources of dietary fibre.
In alphabetical order, here are just a few:
These stockist and supplier links may be helpful if you're searching for good quality fibre supplements:
Natural Dispensary (www.naturaldispensary.co.uk)
Sunshine Health Shop (www.sunshinehealthshop.co.uk)
Victoria Health (www.victoriahealth.com)
For more information about Kathryn's books, click this link
Piatkus Books by Kathryn Marsden
Kathryn's views are completely independent. She is not employed by any pharmaceutical company, supplement supplier or food producer nor is she persuaded in any way, financially or otherwise, to recommend particular products or services.