It’s not just for your bowels
We all know that it is best to include more fibre in our diet because it does us good but are you able to explain what fibre actually is or why is it important to our health? Whenever the term is mentioned, strands of indigestible materials come to the minds of many. Before delving deeper into how fibre benefits us, let’s get a better understanding of just what fibre is.
What is this fibre that we are all encouraged to eat?
Fibre, or sometimes referred to as “roughage”, used to represent just the indigestible parts of plants that will be expelled from the body after passing through the digestive system. However, as knowledge of science deepens, the term ‘fibre’ is now used to also include natural polymers and complex carbohydrates such as cellulose, pectin and various gums produced by plants. There are two classes of fibre – soluble and insoluble.
This fibre adds the bulk needed to clean out the colon and regulate bowel movements. This fibre, or roughage, acts like a sponge. As it absorbs water, it swells inside your intestine and produces a feeling of fullness. The insoluble fibre moves through the digestive system to remove waste, toxins and materials your body doesn’t need.
Soluble fibre mixes with water and digestive enzymes made by the liver to create a gel. This gel works chemically to prevent and reduce the body’s absorption of substances that may be harmful. It is soluble fibre that helps control blood sugar and reduces cholesterol. This fibre comes from fruit, some vegetables, brown rice, beans, barley peas, lentils, oats and bran.
Which class of fibre should I eat?
The answer is both. Soluble fibre, as the name denotes, has a ‘relationship’ with water. When it comes in contact with liquid in the colon, it forms a gel-like substance which serves various functions. For starters, the gel-like substance reduces the absorption of cholesterol, therefore lowering your “bad” LDL cholesterol. The gel also slows down digestion and keeps you feeling full for a longer period of time. With your stomach kept full, you’ll eat less as well as have your blood sugar and insulin levels kept in check. Soluble fibre even has the ability to cut risks of developing heart diseases, as indicated by a study conducted in the US. It was found that men who ate more than 25g of soluble fibre daily are less susceptible to develop blood clots than those who consume less than 15g per day.
Insoluble fibre isn’t without its benefits too. As they do not dissolve in water, they pass through the digestive tract fairly intact and hasten the movement of food and waste along with it. As such, insoluble fibre is often the cure for constipation due to its laxative effect. Due to the easy passing of bowels, less toxins are retained in the body and thus, risks of bowel cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis (inflamed, bulging sacs in the inner lining of the intestine, usually the colon).
Very important health benefits of fibre:
- Fibre reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, including colon and breast cancer
- Fibre keeps your digestive system healthy and regular, helping you to avoid constipation and the risk of diverticulitis
- Fibre helps keep you feeling full and satisfied and more in control of your appetite and weight
- Fibre lowers bad LDL cholesterol and promotes heart health
- Fibre slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream to help maintain stable blood sugar levels and help prevent Type 2 diabetes
The best part of it all is that fibre can help you to lose weight in a good way. Fibre promotes weight loss by acting like a sponge in your digestive tract, absorbing other molecules like carbs, fats, and sugars, along with all their calories, and preventing them from settling on your hips. In one study, scientists determined that for every gram of fibre ingested, your body excretes an average of 7 calories in the stool. That means that if you consumed 35 grams of fibre in one day, you would excrete 245 calories in your stool just by increasing your fibre intake. Plant-based foods are typically high in fibre. So create meals based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes and seeds. Other great sources of fibre are lentils, whole wheat spaghetti and pistachios.
People seldom think of increasing their intake of fibre; their concern is usually vitamins or other minerals. Now that your awareness of the importance of both substances has increased, there is every reason to include them into your diet for the better health of the digestive system.
How much fibre do I need daily?
Men aged between 19 and 50 are recommended to have 38g of fibre daily while those aged 51 and above can consume slightly less at 30 g per day. On the other hands, women below 50 and above 50 ought to have 25g and 21g respectively.
Of course, it is difficult to weigh or calculate the amount of fibre that you consume daily, so here are some suggestions of a fibre-rich menu which will fulfil your daily fibre requirements:
Cereal with milk
- High fibre cereal (1/2 cup = 10-14 g of fibre)
- All bran cereal (1/2 cup = 10-13 g of fibre)
- Raisin bran (3/4 cup = 6.0 g of fibre)
- Bran flakes (3/4 cup = 5.1 g of fibre)
- Oatmeal (1 cup = 4.0 g of fibre)
Bread and muffins
- Chapatti or paratha(1 cup = 14.6 g of fibre)
- Whole wheat muffin (1 = 4.4 g of fibre)
- Whole wheat bread (1 slice = 1.9 g of fibre)
- Prunes (1 cup = 7.6 g of fibre)
- Pears (1 medium-size = 5.5 g of fibre)
- Figs (1/4 cup = 3.7 g of fibre)
- Dates (1/4 cup = 3.6 g of fibre)
- Apples (1 medium sized = 3.3 g of fibre)
- Oranges (1 medium sized = 3.1 g of fibre)
- Banana (1 medium sized = 3.0 g of fibre)
- Raisins (1/4 cup = 1.5 g of fibre)
Lunch and dinner
- Mixed vegetables (1 cup = 8.0 g of fibre)
- Brussels sprouts (1 cup = 6.4 g of fibre)
- Broccoli (1 cup = 5.6 g of fibre)
- Potatoes (1 cup = 4.4 g of fibre)
- Spinach (1 cup = 3.5 g of fibre)
- Corn (1 ear of corn = 6.0 g of fibre)
Legumes, nuts and seeds
- Split peas (1 cup = 16.3 g of fibre)
- Lentils (1 cup = 15.6 g of fibre)
- Chickpeas (1 cup = 12.4 g of fibre)
- Baked beans (1 cup = 10.4 g of fibre)
- Almonds (24 nuts = 3.3 g of fibre)
- Peanuts (24 nuts = 2.3 g of fibre)
You’d see that it isn’t that difficult after all to meet your daily requirements; just 2-3 servings of the above are more than enough to cover your needs. The list isn’t as boring as it seems to be as well; there are various snack bars in the market such as the Nestle K and Nature Valley bars that are healthy and packed with fibre yet taste deliciously good.
How can you get even more fibre?
• Eat the fruits, instead of juicing them, as fruits contain more fibre.
• Keep the fruit peels on, these are a source of fibre. Most vitamins are also stored right beneath the skin, so removing the peel could possibly remove these vitamins too.
Eat whole grain instead of refined grains. Opt for whole grains whenever buying bread and cereal because refined grains contain lesser vitamins, minerals and fibre as a result of the bran and germ removal process.
Is too much fibre harmful?
Too much of anything is never good, even if it was something that would benefit you. Don’t worry though; it is quite unlikely that you will overdose on fibre as most people struggle to even get half of the daily recommended amount from their diet. However, abdominal pains can be expected in some individuals who lack certain digestive enzymes in their bodies. With these enzymes on a low, some fibre will not be digested or absorbed, causing gas and bloating. What you can do is to observe if a particular type of fibrous food constantly causes bloating, gas or cramps and reduce your intake of these.
Also, increase your water intake along with your consumption of fibre. While fibre does help with bowel movements, large quantities of fibre consumed in pill or powder form could cause constipation as soluble fibre absorbs water in the body. So remember, moderation is always the key.