The research on fibre has just got interesting again, having been fairly dull for the last couple of decades. We thought of fibre for the main part as simply having a role in keeping us regular. The research has reignited of late as the importance of the microbiota – our resident gut bugs – has been recognised for gut health, overall health and even mental health.
No longer can we simply think of ‘fibre’ as one thing. It is so much more than simply the ‘roughage’ your mum probably urged you to get enough of. Fibre is, in fact, numerous different plant compounds, primarily carbohydrates, found in plant foods and importantly they all play different roles.
When it comes to the microbiota, diversity is key. The more different bugs we have, the more balanced the entire system and the more we benefit. And to achieve diversity, we need a diversity of fuel sources… and that means a diversity of different types of fibre.
How do you achieve that? Simply by eating a broad variety of different plant foods and ensuring you include a few key sources of the types of fibre we know to be important.
The CSIRO developed super grain BARLEYmax came from exactly this type of research. The grain is special because it has higher levels of all three main types of fibre – soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch. The resistant starch is thought to play a particularly important role in fuelling a healthy microbiota as it is highly fermentable. Many of the soluble fibres are also fermentable, but few insoluble fibres are. The new name for those fermentable fibres are MACs – microbiota accessible carbohydrates.
Freedom Foods, for whom I work as a nutrition consultant, have developed a range of products called Barley+, that incorporate the BARLEYmax grain. These include a range of muesli and cereal bar products and a wholegrain wrap. Including these in your regular menu is an easy way to up your intake of all three types of fibre. Then add in loads of veggies, some fruit, a handful of nuts and an array of legumes and other wholegrain foods and you’ll easily hit the mark for total fibre and fibre diversity.
To illustrate, below I've put together a sample day on a plate:
For reference, the fibre recommendations in our nutrition guidelines are for 25-30g a day. On average most people are falling short of this, but as I hope you will see it really is not hard to achieve with the right food choices. If we consider that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate at least 3 times these recommendations, it shows us what is possible using whole foods! Consider further that these ancestors also ate grains, and they prepared them in such a way that they were able to get a good share of MACs into their diets.
Breakfast – 50g Barley+ Cranberry & Nut Muesli, topped with ½ banana, 4 strawberries, ¼ cup natural yoghurt & ½ cup light milk, coffee with light milk
Snack – A handful of walnuts & an apple, coffee with light milk
Lunch – Barley+ Wholegrain Barley Wrap filled with 1 tbs hummus, 50g roast chicken, ½ cup leafy greens, ½ carrot grated, 2 slices beetroot, 1 sliced tomato, 4 slices cucumber & a slice of cheese
Snack – Barley+ Seven Seeds Bar & a cup of tea
Dinner – Grilled Snapper fillet, 150g sweet potato chips drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and baked in the oven, 2 cups of mixed salad dressed with a tbs of extra virgin olive oil-based vinaigrette
Dessert - 30g dark chocolate & 1/2 punnet (50g) raspberries
How much fibre do you reckon is in that day?
Well, it blows the recommendations out of the park with 54g of fibre (although still short of the 90g plus our ancestors used to consume so we blatantly can eat more when we are accustomed to it).
Now if you currently eat few whole grains or legumes and force yourself to have a serve or two of veg at dinner, then this would probably be too much for you! You need to ease yourself in gently and give your gut and your personal microbiota time to adjust.
I suggest trying half and half of the Barley+ muesli with a cereal you are used to. Then perhaps either a Barley+ wrap or a bar, but not all three in a day. Start trying to add a few more vegies into meals and snack on a handful of nuts. Swap fruit juice for whole fruit and make sure you have 2 serves a day. Add in legumes a couple of times a week. Choose whole grain versions of bread, pasta and rice, and try to include some different whole grains and pseudo-grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rye, oats, teff and ancient wheat varieties such as spelt.
The name of the game is variety and that keeps your menu interesting too!