The Benefits of Fibre in Menopause
The Benefits of Fibre in Menopause
Written for Sage Wellbeing Co by Jenna Carroll | BHSc Naturopath and Nutritionist
In a world where everyone wants to have the last say on what a healthy diet looks like, one of the timelessly agreed upon opinions is that a high fibre diet is beneficial for fuelling good health. A diet high in fibre is strongly associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease and helps you feel full and satiated for longer, leading to healthy weight management. Recent research further suggests that premenopausal women who eat a higher fibre diet are less likely to experience depression and other menopausal symptoms than women who consume less.
What exactly is fibre?
Dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate composed of a long link of sugar molecules. This composition makes it harder to digest than other carbohydrates. Fibre is naturally found in all whole foods from plant origin such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
There are two primary types of fibre, soluble and insoluble and our bodies need both:
- Soluble fibre dissolves in water, and it helps cardiovascular health, manages blood sugar levels and keeps cholesterol in check. Good sources include fruits, vegetables, flaxseeds, oats, psyllium, beans, lentils and peas.
- Insoluble fibre is roughage that basically passes right through us, assisting in eliminating solid waste from our bodies comfortably and appropriately. Good sources include the skins of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrain foods.
What are the benefits of a high-fibre diet?
High-fibre diets have a broad range of benefits and research has only recently began to understand why fibre is so vital for our wellbeing. The importance of fibre is intimately tied to the importance of beneficial microbes in our gut. Dietary fibre literally feeds and makes these microbes thrive. The more beneficial microbes we have in our intestine, the thicker the mucus barrier is that separates our body from the busy bacterial world within our gut. This mucus barrier helps to keep systemic inflammation low throughout the body, whilst the bacteria have an essential role in aiding digestion and absorption of food matter, creating a dual benefit.
Thanks to this mechanism, some of the health benefits of a high-fibre diet include:
- Improves bowel movement regularity, stool formation and transit time
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- Helps stabilise blood glucose levels
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes
- Healthy weight management
Why is fibre beneficial during menopause?
During the menopausal transition, metabolic function begins to slow down, which unfortunately also means digestive function tends to get slower too. This can mean food will linger around longer in your digestive track, fermenting and causing gas, bloating and a tendency towards constipation. However, it is important to remember that you do not have to be burdened by constipation, weight gain and bloating forever more. Ensuring you give your body enough fibre will go a long way in dealing with digestive difficulties and will ensure you gut remains happy and balanced.
A high-fibre diet has more recently been linked to a decreased risk of depression and low mood in premenopausal women, due to an interaction that occurs between estrogen and the gut microbiota. We now know that what you eat affects your microbiome, and your microbiome impacts your mind through the gut-brain axis. So what you eat really matters when it comes to mental health, particularly through menopause.
Recent research published in February 2021 further suggests that other menopausal symptoms may improve with a high-fibre diet including hot flashes. A large observational study found that consuming more fibre as part of a dietary intervention to achieve weight loss was shown to inadvertently reduce hot flashes by nearly 20% in postmenopausal women.
Increasing fibre suddenly in the diet
A sudden change from a low-fibre to a high-fibre diet can sometimes create abdominal pain and increased flatulence and bloating. Also, very high-fibre diets (above 40 g daily), may reduce absorption of some important minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium. This is because fibre has the ability to bind these minerals and form insoluble salts, which are then excreted.
Adults should be aiming for 25-30 g of fibre per day, and should also consider introducing it into the diet gradually to avoid intestinal discomfort. Aim to add fibre into the diet through whole foods first rather than as a supplement as these can sometimes aggravate constipation. When consuming a fibre supplement always ensure you increase the amount of water you are drinking to help reduce chances of constipation.
Easy ways to increase dietary fibre intake
- Eat fruit that is easy to keep handy such as an apple (5 g of fibre in a large one) or a banana (3 g of fibre roughly).
- Try adding a high fibre food such as oatmeal (1/4 cup dry oats delivers 5 g of fibre) or beans (around 7 g per 1/2 cup cooked beans) every second day at first if you are not used to eating a high-fibre diet.
- Gluten free whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, millet and brown rice are a good source of fibre and are worth including with main meals. You can also buy bread and pasta alternatives, but check the nutritional label because fibre content may vary.
- Add chia or ground flaxseeds to smoothies, cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. One tablespoon offers around 5 g of fibre.
- Hechtman, L. (2018). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Elsevier: Sydney.
- Kim, Y et al. (2021). Inverse association between dietary fiber intake and depression in premenopausal women: a nationwide population-based survey. Menopause. Doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001711
- Li, Y et al. (2017). Dietary patterns and depression risk: a meta-analysis. Psychiatry research.
Sage Wellbeing believes that the first step to laying down the foundations for good health is to establish a healthy gut.