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What are the top signs you need prebiotic fibre?

According to a 2023 report, almost 60% of people in the UK have experienced gut health problems. And what many people don’t know is that when it comes to looking after your gut, prebiotic fibre is essential. It helps regulate the digestive system, strengthens your immune system, lowers inflammation and even boosts your mood. But how do you know when you might not be getting enough and when you should start to take prebiotics? In this article, we’ll highlight the signs and symptoms you should be looking out for.


Firstly, what is prebiotic fibre?

All prebiotics are types of fibre, but not all fibre can be classed as prebiotic. Regular fibre is defined—in simple terms—as plant-derived material that passes through your digestive system relatively intact. It’s also sometimes known as ‘bulk’ or ‘roughage’. Prebiotic fibre acts in much the same way, but it also comes with the added benefit of fuelling the growth of good bacteria in the gut. This means that those good bacteria can thrive, creating a healthy gut microbiome, which is vital for your overall health.

Some of the best prebiotic foods include flaxseeds, beans, bananas, berries, asparagus, onions and oats.


Signs you need more prebiotic fibre in your diet

The obvious signs that you need to up your intake of prebiotic fibre are digestive issues, but your gut health has a surprisingly big impact on your overall health, too—a bacterial imbalance in the gut can present itself in some strange and unexpected ways. Here are some of the signs to look out for.


Diarrhoea or constipation

When you’re not getting enough prebiotic fibre in your diet, your digestive system can go a little off-whack. Fibre helps to add bulk to your stools, making them easier to pass, which is why a lack of it can cause diarrhoea or constipation. The good news is that eating more fibre can help regulate things and get your bowel movements back to normal pretty quickly.


Bloating and cramping

Bloating and cramping are common signs of an imbalanced gut microbiome, so if you’re experiencing these symptoms, it might be time to up your prebiotic fibre intake. Irregular bowel movements can also cause bloating, making the problem even worse.

Gas

If you’re suffering from excess gas, it could be a sign of a bacterial imbalance in the gut—if you don’t have enough good bacteria, the gas-causing bacteria will multiply more quickly. Adding more prebiotic fibre to your diet should help boost the numbers of good bacteria in your gut, and in turn, reduce gas. 

Indigestion

Indigestion is another common symptom associated with not getting enough prebiotic fibre. If your gut isn’t in the best shape, it’s more difficult for it to digest your food. This can present itself as heartburn, feeling full even though you haven’t over-eaten, burping a lot, or feeling sick.

Fatigue

An imbalanced gut can lead to less efficient absorption of the essential nutrients in the food we eat. So, if you’re feeling tired a lot of the time, it could be down to this. Eating more fibre will boost the number of good bacteria in your gut, which will help get you the vitamins and minerals you need to feel more energetic and awake.  

A weakened immune system

Did you know that your immune system is closely linked to your gut? That’s right—about 70 to 80% of your immune cells are in your gut, so a healthy gut microbiome is essential for fighting off infections and diseases. If you’ve noticed yourself getting colds, flu or seasonal allergies more often than usual, it may be a sign that you need to eat more fibre.

Difficulty concentrating

When you’re not eating enough fibre, the number of harmful gut bacteria starts to grow, which means toxins and pathogens start creeping into your bloodstream. This can actually lead to inflammation of the brain, which can present itself as ‘brain fog’—forgetfulness or concentration struggles. It’s one of the lesser-known symptoms of a lack of prebiotic fibre.

A low mood

Your gut is closely linked to your brain—that’s why we often experience digestive problems when we’re stressed or feeling very emotional. In fact, one study found that a whopping 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the digestive tract. If you’re not getting enough prebiotic fibre, your gut may be bacterially imbalanced, which means serotonin levels can drop, leading to low mood.

Weight gain

A healthy gut is a healthy body, so it might not surprise you to hear that a bacterial imbalance can lead to weight gain. There are a few possible reasons for this. Firstly, having too much bad bacteria in the gut can cause sugar cravings. Secondly, prebiotic fibre helps regulate your appetite, so without it, you might feel hungrier more often. Both of these things inevitably lead to overeating, or cause you to reach for unhealthy foods more often. On top of that, constipation caused by poor gut health can result in temporary weight gain.

 

How to get more prebiotic fibre into your diet.

The best way to increase your prebiotic fibre intake is to eat more fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, oats and legumes. This can be easier said than done, though. If you need a helping hand, adding a prebiotic supplement to your daily routine is a great idea. Prebiotic powders and dietary fibre supplements can easily be added to shakes or taken in tablet form, so it’s easy to slot them into your diet.


The role of Supplements

Now that we established that fibre is crucial for a healthy gut, but reaching the recommended daily intake of 25-35 grams (NHS is 30 grams for adults) can be tricky. Whether it’s our busy hectic lifestyles, food intolerances, taste preferences, or restrictive diet trends such as Keto, there are many barriers to achieving the recommended intake of fibre and the fact is that more than 80% of UK adults do not achieve this target. In fact fibre deficiency is common in many western nations, with many achieving only between 18 and 20g per day.

 

That's where fibre supplements step in, offering a helping hand to bridge the gap between your diet and your gut's needs. As mentioned above, imagine fibre supplements as tiny cheerleaders for your digestive system:

  • They bulk up your stool: Fibre adds water and gives stool more body, promoting smooth sailing through your digestive tract.

  • They feed your gut buddies: Prebiotic fibre act as nourishment for the good bacteria in your gut, fostering a thriving microbiome.

  • They keep things regular: Regularity is key to a happy gut, and fibre supplements can help combat constipation and keep things moving smoothly.

 

But remember, supplements are just that – supplements. They shouldn't replace a balanced diet rich in fibre-rich whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Think of them as a boost, not a shortcut.

Here's how fibre supplements can play a supportive role in your fibre journey and those who struggle to reach the fibre target:

  • For picky eaters: If you struggle to incorporate enough fibre-rich foods, supplements can help fill the void.

  • For busy lifestyles: When life gets hectic, grabbing a quick supplement can be easier than prepping a fibre-packed meal.

  • For those with food intolerances and allergy: If you have digestive conditions and sensitivities that make it challenging to tolerate certain types of fibre or high fibre intake in general. Examples include Fructose intolerance, FODMAP sensitivity and Diverticulitis.

  • For targeted needs: Certain supplements excel at constipation relief, while others focus on gut health and not all fibres are prebiotic.

 

With so many options on the market, it's crucial to choose wisely. Consider your individual needs and consult a healthcare professional for personalized recommendations. Remember, a balanced diet is the foundation, and fibre supplements can be valuable allies in your quest for a happy and healthy gut. So, don't be afraid to give them a try and experience the power of a little extra fibre!

Bonus tip: Pair your fibre intake with adequate water consumption for optimal results and always start with small doses and increment to reach your optimal target.  

 

Sources of rich natural fibre in their raw and edible forms. Clockwise from top left: Psyllium husk; Inulin; flaxseed and acacia gum.

 

The bottom line

Prebiotic fibre is really important for gut health, so not getting enough of it in your diet can lead to a long list of problems. These aren’t restricted to digestive issues, either—as well as constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating, you might experience weight gain, low mood, a weakened immune system and fatigue. By eating more fibre-rich foods like beans and bananas, or taking natural prebiotic supplements, you’ll give your gut a boost and keep these symptoms at bay. Achieving the recommended fibre intake target, as part of a balanced healthy diet, is key to getting many health benefits and averting illnesses. It's no wonder our ancestors consumed more than 100g of fibre a day!



 

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