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Is fibre really that fabulous?


August 2011 

 Is fibre really that fabulous?

Is fibre really that fabulous?Doctors, nutritionists and dieticians all agree that fibre makes up a very important part of anyone’s diet. In countries where people eat far more fruit and vegetables than we do, and also use unpolished rice and other wholegrain foods as the main basics in their diet, incidences of diseases such as bowel cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes and coronary heart disease are much lower.

Clearly, fibre is a very important aspect of diet and it is worth understanding a little about it and why it plays such a role in our overall good health.

One of the main functions of fibre is to help keep our digestive processes working well. It is an essential aspect for healthy bowel functions because fibre absorbs water and swells up in bulk. This helps speed up the elimination of waste and toxins from the body which is a good thing – if these stay in the intestine or bowel for lengthy periods, they can lead to a number of problems and diseases.

Fibre comes in two types, insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fibre passes through the body virtually unchanged. It is not absorbed, so doesn’t turn into excess calories, but insoluble fibre can contain benefits such as cellulose, lignin and pectin which help to keep the bowels active. By promoting the growth of specific bacteria that help make waste material soft and bulky, insoluble fibre assists waste and toxins to pass through the intestines more quickly.

Soluble fibre is different because it absorbs water in the intestines. It also slows down the digestive process which affects the rate of release of energy such as carbohydrates into the bloodstream, helping to ensure blood sugar levels remain stable. It also seems that soluble fibre may help to reduce cholesterol levels by binding the cholesterol and preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream.

So while fibre is clearly an essential part in our everyday diet, obtaining adequate levels is not so easy. Fibre is only found in the cell walls of plants. There are no useful levels of fibre in foods such as meat, fish or dairy products. Also, while some foods such as oats contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, generally you need a mix of foods to cover both types.

To cover both fibres, you need to look at certain cereal grains such as wheat, oats, barley and rice, at nuts and seeds, at pulses such as dried beans and lentils and at fruit and vegetables. For fibre content, you need to choose brown rice or wholegrain cereals rather than the more processed white versions where key elements have been removed.

Generally dieticians recommend we eat around 18 to 20 grams of fibre a day which is more than the current average intake. Breakfast cereals are a good source of dietary fibre if you choose the right ones – a high fibre cereal should contain around 6g of fibre per 100g. However, when you consider that one orange contains just 2.7g of fibre and one slice of wholemeal bread contains around 1.9g of fibre, you can see it can become challenging to ensure you reach the required levels every day.

It takes a bit of work and research to check your fibre intake and to adapt your diet to ensure you receive the required levels; but all medical research indicates that fibre plays an extremely important role in everyone’s diet. It seems fibre really is fabulous!



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