Guest article by Sam Hadadi,
We all know that a diet full of greasy, fried foods and sugary treats will cause us to pile on the pounds. Yet all too often, we’re told that it’s the sky-high levels of fat and calories found in these foods that will trigger obesity, diabetes and other weight-related problems.
Amazingly, some exciting new research may be about to throw all of that on its head. Thanks to the interesting new study, fat and calories may soon be given an easier time, with scientists believing that it’s actually diets lacking in soluble fibre that could well be the culprit behind all of these problems.
Yep, high-fat diets may not be the enemy they once were. You see, those clever scientists now suspect that soluble fibre – the kind that’s found in oats, nuts, seeds and beans and can slow digestion – could ease inflammation levels in our guts.
In fact, the study, published by the American Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, found that mice that enjoyed a diet low in soluble fibre caused both inflammation in the intestines and poor gut health, leading to weight gain. What’s more, as soon as soluble fibre was added back into their diet, gut health was restored.
So, what triggered these problems? And why is soluble fibre so important for gut health? Well, to explain, we have to go a little bit scientific on you. You see, the gut microbiota is a community (think of it like a little town or city) of bacteria and microorganisms that live in the intestines.
While these same microbiota live elsewhere on the body (including the skin and mouth), the gut is crucial in maintaining intestinal health and function. Not only does it help the body to digest food but it also produces vitamins and fights foreign microorganisms. Changes to these same microbiota can cause a whole host of gastrointestinal diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
As you’ll see, they’re pretty important things – and soluble fibre is crucial in keeping them happy.
For the study, a research team at Georgia State University looked at the effects of diets varying in amounts of soluble and insoluble fibers, protein and fat. They then examined how each of these diets affected the structure of the intestines, as well as fat accumulation and weight gain in mice.
The findings were fairly impressive. As you already know, mice on diets lacking soluble fibre gained weight and had more fat compared to those mice on diets high in soluble fibre. Meanwhile, the intestines of mice on diets lacking in soluble fibre were also shorter and had thinner walls. Incredibly, these changes happened as soon as two days after starting the diet.
Thankfully, the results weren’t long-term – as soon as soluble fibre was added back into the diet, gut structure was restored. In fact, boosting diets with the soluble fibre inulin even restored the intestines in mice enjoying a soluble fibre-deficient diet. Mice that received cellulose - an insoluble fiber - did not show improvements.
What’s especially interesting is that when the mice were fed a high-fat diet, switching the type of fibre from insoluble to soluble protected them from fat accumulation and intestinal wasting. Such was the difference that the researchers even went so far as to suggest that there’s a huge difference in health benefits between soluble and insoluble dietary fibres.
Those brainy researchers believe that these incredible benefits found in diets high in soluble fibre were due to changes in the gut microbiota.
These microbiota, they say, help the body to produce molecules called short chain fatty acids (which are used as fuel by intestinal cells and have anti-inflammatory properties).
You see, the mice that ate a soluble fibre-deficient diet had lower levels of short chain fatty acids – something that changed the very second soluble fibre was reintroduced into their diets. Meanwhile, supplementing soluble fibre-deficient diets with short chain fatty acids had similar effects as inulin supplementation.
According to the researchers, this all means that soluble fibre boosts gut health by helping our friendly microbiota to produce short chain fatty acids.
Could it mean the end to our obesity woes? Well, possibly! The researchers added: "If our observations were to prove applicable to humans, it would suggest that encouraging consumption of foods with high soluble fiber content may be a means to combat the epidemic of metabolic disease. Moreover, addition of inulin and perhaps other soluble fibers to processed foods, including calorically rich obesogenic foods, may be a means to ameliorate their detrimental effects.”
As you now know, there are two types of fibre – soluble and insoluble fibre, both of which can do incredible things for our health and our body. The difference? Well, it’s all in the name! Soluble fibre absorbs water, turning into a sort of gel in the body, whereas insoluble doesn’t.
However, both types of fibre are found in plants and are essentially forms of carbs. While soluble fibre will slow digestion down, keeping us feeling full, insoluble fibre can help food to pass more quickly through the tummy and intestines.
So, where can you find it? Soluble fibre can be found in:
Insoluble fibre can be found in:
As well as boosting our gut health, soluble fibre is fantastic for our body. It can also reduce the amount of bad cholesterol found in the blood, prevent blood sugar spikes (this is great for diabetes sufferers), help with weight loss and ease constipation.
Insoluble fibre can also help with weight gain by staving off hunger pangs and will also keep those bowel movements nice and regular.
For further reading see Science Daily
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.