Fibre is the structural component of plants. The type and amount of fibre in plants vary from species to species. In common parlance, fibre refers to roughage, bulk and coarse indigestible plant matter like bran. This can be misleading since some forms of fibre are water soluble and are not bulky or rough at all.
Fibre mainly keeps the digestive system healthy and helps speed up excretion of waste and toxins from the body.
Why should I be aware of this?
A diet without fibre is not a balanced diet and can have serious adverse consequences. The intake of fibre–rich products has many advantages and helps to maintain good health. It prevents constipation and irritable bowel syndrome and so decreases the risk of developing colon cancer. Fibre–rich foods give a feeling of fullness that prevents a person from over-eating. Fibre is also believed to reduce cholesterol and control blood sugar levels in diabetics.
How does this affect me?
The inclusion or adequate amount of fibre in our diet has a far reaching impact on our health.
- Health of the digestive system - The muscles lining the digestive tract help in the movement of the food from the moment it enters the mouth till it is excreted. Fibre makes the passage easier.
- Fibre and ageing -- The digestive system slows down with age, so a high fibre diet ensures easy passage of food through the digestive system without stressing the muscles
- Lowering blood cholesterol--Studies showed that regular intake of foods high in soluble fibre - such as oat bran, baked beans and soybeans - reduced blood cholesterol levels
- Weight control --In many cases, people who are overweight or obese have been shown to lose significant amounts of excess body fat simply by increasing the amount of dietary fibre, especially soluble fibre, in their daily diet.
- Helps people with diabetes --A diet high in fibre slows glucose absorption and helps diabetic patients.
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Coronary heart disease
- Colon cancer
All about Fibre
There are two types of fibres -- soluble and insoluble.
1. Soluble fibre dissolves in water. It includes pectins, gums and mucilage, which are found mainly in plant cells. Soluble fibre lowers blood cholesterol levels. It also helps in constipation. Good sources of soluble fibre include
- Oat bran
- Seed husks
- Flax seed
- Dried beans
- Soy products.
2. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. It includes cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin, which make up the structural parts of plant cell walls. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to faeces and prevents constipation and associated problems such as haemorrhoids. Insoluble fibre retains water and promotes the growth of friendly bacteria. It also ferments and softens the waste material to facilitate easy passage from the body. Good sources include
- Wheat bran
- Corn bran
- Rice bran
- Skins of fruits and vegetables
- Dried beans
- Whole grain foods.
Fibre rich food
Good sources of fibre include
- Wholegrain breakfast cereals and breads,
- Wholewheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Jacket potatoes
- Simple everyday items like fruits can supply us with a decent amount of fibre. Fruits with edible skins are naturally richer in fibre.
- Select whole grain products
- Also rich in fibre content are seeds, nuts and popcorn.
How does fibre work?
Dietary fibre acts a bit like a sponge in the gut and absorbs water to increase the bulk and softness of the stools, helping to ensure their easy pasage through the body.
What can I do?
To increase fibre intake in the diet
- Eat breakfast cereals that contain barley, wheat or oats.
- Switch to wholemeal or multigrain breads and brown rice.
- Add an extra vegetable to every evening meal.
- Snack on fruit, dried fruit, nuts or wholemeal crackers.
- It is advisable to eat a range of different fibre-rich foods rather than always opting for the same few.
- Eat fruits without peeling or extracting juice.
- Select breads with whole grain flours and added fibre.
- As you increase your intake of fibre, it is also important to increase your fluid intake since fibres abosrb water.
- It is important to introduce fibre-rich foods gradually to give the body time to adapt. Some people pass excessive wind, have a bloated feeling and even experience constipation if they suddenly introduce a lot of fibre at a go in their diet.
- A sudden switch from a low fibre diet to a high fibre diet can create some abdominal pain and increased flatulence.
- Very high fibre diets (more than 40g daily) are linked with decreased absorption of some important minerals, such as iron, zinc and calcium. This occurs when fibre binds these minerals and forms insoluble salts, which are then excreted.
- Surprisingly, neither animal products like meat, fish, poultry and eggs, nor dairy products contain any fibre.
- Fibre is an essential ingredient in the diets of ruminant animals such as cattle.
- Fibre is the structural carbohydrate component of plants – it keeps plants upright.
- Ordinary legumes and beans can supply up to 12 gms of fibres.