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Bowel health and fibre for men

Why is fibre good for you? Find out why increasing your fibre intake can help your bowel health.

We are what we eat”, goes the old saying, but what we really should say is “we are what our bacteria do with what we eat”. Our digestive system is vital in protecting our body against potential diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and bowel cancer. Eating a variety of foods including meat, chicken, fish, dairy or dairy alternatives, grains along with fruit and vegetables work together to maintain the health of the gut and bacteria, known as the gut microbiota. Men have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer than women and also need more fibre than women. 

Given June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, it's timely to talk about super sizing your fibre intake to protect against bowel cancer. 

Dietary fibre is the primary food source for the trillions of bacteria that live mostly in the large bowel. Fibre is not absorbed in the small bowel, when it reaches the large bowel the bacteria ferments it to produce short chain fatty acids. These short chain fatty acids have important roles in the bowel they:

  • Keep the lining of the bowel healthy
  • Maintain the pH of the bowel 
  • Support the immune system 
  • Eating a variety of plant foods is key to provide the gut microbiota with all the different types of fibre it likes, bacteria have their favourite foods, some like fibre from grains while others like fruit or vegetable fibre.

    Adding more fibre to your diet can be easy, here are some simple ways that might help:  

  • Grainy toast or breakfast cereals with oats, nuts, seeds are a great way to start the day
  • Choose grainy bread for sandwiches or wholemeal wraps then pack them with salad or leftover vegetables – aim for at least three different vegetables e.g. lettuce, spinach, beetroot, tomato 
  • Have at least one plant based meal a week. Add canned lentils, black beans or kidney beans into curries, Mexican food or casseroles, these make a hearty and filling meal 
  • Aim for ½ your dinner plate being filled with vegetables and/or salad; canned vegetables such as corn and beetroot along with frozen vegetables make adding extra vegetables an easy option 
  • Snack on fruit and nuts. A few pieces of dried fruit such as figs, dates and apricots are great options if you feel like something sweet
  • Leave the skin on – most vegetables and fruit are a combination of different fibres, leaving the skin on potatoes, carrots, apples and pears will give you a double fibre hit
  • Take home messages  

  • Fibre is key to protecting the bowel and keeping us healthy.   
  • Men need more fibre than women.
  • When increasing dietary fibre go slow so that the gut microbiota gets used to more fibre, otherwise you may end up just a little bit too gassy.  
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    To find out more check out www.thegut.org.nz