Fibre & Fluids in your Diet - Happy Healthy Bowel
Fibre & Fluids
The Healthy Bowel
A normal and healthy bowel pattern is different for everyone. One person might have a bowel movement every three days, while another person might have more than one bowel movement every day. Both patterns are healthy and both are normal. A persistent change (as in continuing for more than 6-weeks) in your personal bowel habit may signify a serious medical condition and an early appointment with your General Practitioner should be sought.
There are many ‘non-serious' causes of a transient or short-lived change to your bowel habit including dietary change, many viral illnesses, medications etc.
The key thing to remember here is that if the change is persistent you must see your doctor.
What follows in this information leaflet is a guide to maintaining a healthy bowel and a regular bowel habit.
How to keep your bowels healthy
Your diet is the most important factor in maintaining a healthy bowel. Eat a variety of foods from each of the four food groups with an emphasis on the fibre and fluid content of your diet:
Try to be active every day. Exercise helps with digestion and helps stool move through the bowel.
What is a ‘normal' bowel habit?
Most people tend to have their bowels open once a day, usually in the morning. If your bowels don't work like this, do not worry! Your bowel habit may be different from this. It is not necessary to go once a day in the morning, despite what your Granny may have told you! Some people may go every other day or twice a day etc. The important thing is that your bowel habit is ‘normal' for you. Generally it is unhealthy to have you bowels open less frequently than 3 times per week or more than 3 times per day.
Another myth to dispel is that you should remain on the toilet until you have ‘completely emptied' your bowels. Generally it is not advisable to spend longer than 2-3 minutes on the toilet. Spending longer periods on the toilet reading the morning paper should be avoided as this encourages the pelvic floor muscles to relax and any subsequent straining will allow the lining of the bowel to descend lower than normal. This may make you more prone to rectal prolapse or prolapsing haemorrhoids (piles). In general excessive straining should be avoided for the same reason.
What bowel symptoms should I worry about?
If you have any of the following you should arrange an appointment to see your doctor at your earliest convenience:
All of the above may be entirely innocent but should be checked out by a qualified doctor.
Fibre (also known as roughage) is the structural part of the plant, it is the framework that supports and holds the plant together and is therefore only found in foods of plant origin. Many research studies have shown the beneficial effects to our health of fibre in the diet. Despite this the western diet has shown a gradual deterioration in the amount of fibre in foods and the amount of fibre we consume.
There are two types of fibre in our diets - soluble and insoluble; each has a different effect on the gut. A healthy diet will contain a combination of these 2 fibre types.
Food types, which are predominantly high in soluble fibre, are:
Soluble fibre is effectively broken down by certain types of colonic bacteria producing energy and gas. The fibre forms a gel-like substance in the stool, which can bind to other substances in the gut having additional benefits such as lowering cholesterol levels.
Foods predominantly high in insoluble fibre are:
Insoluble fibre is less easily degraded by colonic bacteria but holds water very effectively (up to 15 times its weight in water) thus contributing to an increase in stool weight and size
How much do we need ?
There is no simple answer to this question. It should be noted that it is possible to have too much fibre in the diet, leading to bloatedness, abdominal pain, and increased wind and in some cases diarrhoea. The recommended average total fibre intake should be in the order of 20 - 35gramsms per day. It is important to stress, as with a ‘normal' bowel habit these recommendations may not be appropriate for you.
Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet
High fibre diets are not the only answer to a happy healthy bowel. Without fluid, and without increasing the amount of fluid when changing to a high fibre diet then dietary fibre cannot do its job. Insoluble fibre in particular acts like a sponge absorbing water, increasing in stool weight and size, thus putting pressure on the bowel wall and making it easier for the bowel to move the stool. Without increasing the amount of fluid the high fibre diet is pointless and will only constipate you further.
How much fluid?
Fibre content of different foods
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