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Dietary fibre: The essence of a healthful diet

‘Eat more fibre’ – it’s a phrase that’s repeated by nutritionists and health services time and time again. But what exactly is fibre?

Dietary fibre – sometimes known as ‘roughage’ – is found in plant-derived foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. More specifically, it’s the portion of these foods that can’t be broken down in the gut. That means that instead of being absorbed into the body, dietary fibre passes through the digestive system relatively intact.

Infographic of dietary fibre sources and importance of dietary fiber

So, why is dietary fibre so good for us? And how can we incorporate more of it into our diet?

The health benefits of dietary fibre

One of the most talked-about – and biggest – benefits of a high-fibre diet is improved digestion and overall gut health. More fibre means more bulk, and bulkier stools are softer and easier to pass, which means constipation is kept at bay. Plus, a high-fibre diet is linked with a lower risk of developing haemorrhoids and diseases of the colon.

And that’s not all. Eating a diet high in fibre can also help lower cholesterol levels, because the fibre binds to it, preventing it from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. The result of this is improved cardiovascular health. Fibre can also help control blood sugar levels – particularly in people with diabetes – by slowing its absorption.

High-fibre foods tend to be more filling and lower in calories, too, which spells good news for anyone who’s trying to shed a few pounds or maintain a healthy weight.

Perhaps surprisingly, increased fibre intake may also be linked to improved mental well-being. That’s because the gut, when irritated or inflamed, sends distress signals to the brain. A study by Front Psychiatry found that people who consumed more fibre were less likely to develop conditions like anxiety and high psychological distress. In fact this is an extremely interesting and fascinating area of research and we have another blog about the microbiome and its link to the brain.

Acacia Fibre intake as soluble powder delivers many health benefits  to men women kids
Fibre intake is essential for a healthy living

The impact of fibre deficiency

The recommended fibre intake for adults in the UK is 30g per day. Men generally need a little more than women, as they tend to need more calories. Children aged 11 to 18 should aim for 25g a day, while 5 to 11-year-olds need 20g, and 2 to 5-year-olds require 15g per day. According to the NHS, however, most people only manage to consume about two-thirds of the recommended amount.

This low-fibre diet is having a negative impact on the nation’s health. It’s linked to a number of conditions, from constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Plus, eating too little fibre could increase the chances of developing colorectal and bowel cancers, according to Cancer Research UK.

So, it’s clear that most people could benefit from incorporating more fibre into their diets. But what’s the best way to do it?

Sources of fibre

There are two main types of intrinsic, or naturally occurring fibre – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre, which is found in nuts, lentils and citrus fruits, dissolves in water, helping to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, can’t be broken down. It’s this type of fibre – found in vegetables, whole grains and beans – that aids digestion.

Then, there’s prebiotic fibre. This type of fibre can’t be digested, so it travels to the gut, where it acts as a vital food source for healthy bacteria. Most soluble fibres fall into this category. By increasing the number of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome, they help to reduce inflammation, ease constipation and boost the immune system.

To get the most benefit, it’s best to eat a wide variety of high-fibre foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet. One easy way to do this is by bulking out stews, salads and curries with high-fibre foods like chickpeas, beans and lentils. And skin-on potatoes, like jackets and boiled new potatoes, provide more fibre than options like mashed potato and chips.

Some simple changes – like switching from white to whole wheat pasta, bread and rice – can make a big difference, too. Swapping canned fruit and vegetables for fresh varieties is also a good idea because the processing involved with canned fruit and vegetables can remove some of their fibre.

Fibre Fiber microbiome immunity balanced diet Prebiotics Probiotics
The gut microbiome is a habitat for trillions of cells and also 70% of the human immune system. See out next blog on this fascinating topic.

Fibre supplements

It’s best to consume as much fibre as possible by eating the foods mentioned above because they also contain other important vitamins and minerals that are necessary for a healthy, balanced diet.

However, getting enough fibre through diet alone can be difficult. This could be because of our busy lives or fussy appetites. It's also said that popular trendy popular diets limit the amount of fibre intake.

Thankfully, supplements like Acacia gum are available to help bridge the gap. Fibre supplements come in the form of powders, capsules or granules that can be taken on their own or added to food and drinks. Just like high-fibre foods, they promote better digestion, regular bowel movements and overall good health.

As with fibre-rich foods, it’s best to introduce supplements into your diet gradually over the course of a week or so – starting with small amounts. This will minimise potential side effects like bloating and gas. Drinking plenty of water is recommended, too.

Acacia gum as a fibre source

Acacia gum is the dried exudate or tears obtained from the stem and branches of the Acacia Senegal or the Acacia Seyal species. It has been used for centuries as a key food ingredient as well as for medicinal uses by the ancient Egyptians. Its most widespread application in our food chain is its use as an emulsifier, stabiliser and thickening agent and is an approved food additive E414. It is also heavily used outside the food sector in the textile, arts, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

Acacia gum is made up of a highly molecular polysaccharide structure that is indigestible to humans and animals but is slowly, yet totally fermented in the colon to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Thus Acacia gum meets the adopted definitions of dietary fibre and all the potential health benefits they deliver as described above. The typical fibre content in Acacia gum is higher than 80%.

Whilst a variety of fibre supplements exist, Acacia gum has superior qualities and is often referred to as the "Rolls Royce" of gums. Unlike other common fibre supplements – like flaxseed and psyllium husk – Acacia fibre is virtually tasteless and can be simply added to plain water or blended into smoothies, yoghurts and salad dressings without altering their flavour or texture. This means that it’s easy to incorporate it into a healthy, balanced diet. The complex molecular structure means Acacia gum is slowly fermented and this reduces the bloating side effects. In fact, Acacia gum is known to be very well tolerated by the gastrointestinal system even at high doses. As it’s made from the dried sap of Acacia trees, it is a natural source of soluble fibre, helping to reduce blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

Most recently and in recognition of the vital health benefits of Acacia gum, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Acacia gum as a source of dietary fibre.

Acacia gum. Acacia fibre. Gum arabic nodules.  Raw kibbled
The golden nodules: Acacia gum. The raw form of the Acacia powder

The bottom line

There are many benefits that come with a high-fibre diet – from improved digestion to a decreased risk of long-term diseases like diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer. Dietary fibre is the essential food or prebiotic, that induces and flourishes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the human gut.

And, as most people in the UK aren’t eating enough fibre, vital natural supplements like acacia gum are becoming more and more important. Acacia gum is a natural plant-based, highly soluble, indigestible source of rich dietary fibre that is beneficial to human health. The best sources of fibre are the foods mentioned above with high intrinsic dietary fibre content.

The gut microbiome is a very complex habitat that is crucial to our physical and mental health. It is also the home to the majority of the human immune system. Interested to know more about it? Visit our next blog.

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