The facts on fibre

Fibre can provide many health benefits

Interest in fibrous foods has surfaced in the past few years as more people have started to concern themselves with their purpose and potential uses.

Dietary fibre is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fibre can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Eating healthy high-fibre foods makes you feel full, so you can resist eating more food than you need. Fibrous foods also can take longer to chew, giving your brain time to get the signal that you have had enough to eat. So if you’re overweight and want some help shifting excess pounds, start eating foods higher in fibre. It is not a magic weight loss weapon, but it has the power to help fill you up without filling you out.

Dietary fibre, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates, fibre isn’t digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, and colon and out of your body.

Fibre is commonly classified as soluble or insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. This type of fibre is found in oats, peas, beans and citrus fruits. Insoluble fibre on the other hand promotes the movement of material through your digestive system. Good sources of insoluble fibre can be found in whole-grains, nuts and vegetables.

Soluble and insoluble

Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit you should try to eat a wide variety of them.

A high-fibre diet has many benefits. It can normalise bowel movements, assist in maintaining bowel health, help lower cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels. Eating fibrous foods will also aid in achieving a healthy bodyweight.

If you aren’t getting enough fibre each day, you may need to boost your intake. Good choices include whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas and other legumes as well as nuts and seeds.

However, remember refined or processed foods – such as canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices and white breads and pastas – are lower in fibre. The grain-refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which lowers its fibre content. Similarly, removing the skin from fruits and vegetables decreases their fibre content.

Fibrous foods are fantastic for your health. But take care to increase fibre in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.

And finally, drink plenty of water. Like almost everything, fibre works best when it absorbs water.