We are all quite familiar with the word ‘fibre’ and how it is beneficial for our health. We have been told to include them in our diet yet most of us are still in the dark on what exactly dietary fibre is and how exactly it benefits our health. So if you are someone asking that same question, read on to find out all there is to know about dietary fibre, its sources, how it functions in the body and all its health benefits.
What is Dietary Fibre?
Also known as ‘bulk’ or ‘roughage’, dietary fibre is the indigestible parts or compounds of foods from plants, such as fruits, vegetables and cereals. Unlike other food components like fats, proteins or carbohydrates –which the body breaks down and absorbs, dietary fibre is not digested by the body. Instead, it passes relatively unchanged through our stomach, intestine and out of the body. Dietary fibre is mainly a type of carbohydrate and is one of the main reasons that makes whole plant foods beneficial for health as it contributes to stool bulk and adds form to the stool, thereby keeping the bowel movement going and the digestive system healthy.
Simply put, dietary fibre is an indigestible carbohydrate found in plant foods. And although there are many types of fibre, it is mainly divided into broad categories based on its water solubility:
- Soluble fibre: Dissolves in water. It can be metabolized by the ‘good’ gut bacterias to form a gel-like material. It is beneficial in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and glucose levels, as well as in reducing constipation. Good sources of soluble fibre include oats, peas, apples, carrots, beans, lentils, barley, flaxseed, soy and soy products.
- Insoluble fibre: Does not dissolve in water. It adds bulk to the stool while promoting an efficient movement of material through the digestive system. It is beneficial for preventing constipation and associated problems such as haemorrhoids. Good sources of insoluble fibre include nuts, whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, rice bran, corn bran, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes and the skins of fruits and vegetables.
With that being said, it is important to know that most foods contain both types of dietary fibre and that there is a lot of overlap between the two, which means that most insoluble fibres may also be digested by the good gut bacteria. And most importantly, since the amount of soluble and insoluble fibre can vary in different plant foods, it is best to eat a variety of high-fibre foods in order to receive the most health benefits.
Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre
Having a diet rich in fibre is an excellent way to improve the health of the digestive system, mostly by absorbing water and adding bulk to the faeces and making way for a regularised and easier bowel movement. This is particularly helpful in preventing issues relating to digestion like constipation, bloating, flatulence, irregular bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as in lowering the risk of developing haemorrhoids and colorectal cancer. However, beyond its immense advantage for digestive health, dietary fibre also provides benefits to health in many different ways.
Here are some of the ways dietary fibre benefits our health:
- Promotes Weight Loss
Fibrous foods are relatively bulky and tend to be more filling. Therefore, eating rich-fibre foods can make you eat less, suppress appetite and keep you fuller for a longer period. Additionally, foods rich in fibre also tend to have a lower energy density, which means they have fewer calories, making them an ideal food for weight loss.
- Reduces Heart Disease risk
Soluble fibre is known to lower the chances of heart disease by lowering ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels in the body. By binding bile acids that are made from cholesterol to digest dietary fats, soluble fibre help carry out the excess cholesterol before they clog up the arteries, thereby reducing the risk of stroke or heart attack due to narrowed arteries. Apart from this, soluble fibre also protects and improves the heart by reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
- Reduces Diabetes risk
People who eat a diet rich in fibre on a daily basis are known to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There is good evidence that soluble fibre, especially cereal fibre, helps slow the absorption of sugar and help prevent blood sugar spikes after meals, thereby lowering the chances of diabetes in the future.
- Maintains Bone Density
Certain types of soluble fibres, which are also known as prebiotics has been shown by several studies to have the ability to increase the bioavailability of minerals like calcium in the foods we eat, which are essential in maintaining bone density. Good sources of prebiotics include oats, wheat, asparagus and soya beans.
- Reduces certain Cancer risk
As per the 2016 study conducted by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it was suggested that regular intake of high-fibre foods have been linked to low breast cancer risk. Likewise, another study suggested that high fibre intake reduces the chances of colorectal cancer by 10%. It is also important to know that since fibre is mostly present in fruits and vegetables, the consumption of these foods, which are great sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals, may also contribute to this benefit.
How much fibre should you eat?
The daily recommended intake for dietary fibre is 38 grams per day for adult males and 25 grams per day for female adults. The recommended amount for older people also differ as they need less fibre. 30 grams per day for elderly men and 21 grams per day for women is the recommended intake for dietary fibre (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
Including wholegrain cereal products, oatmeals, fruits, vegetables and legumes into your daily diet is a great way to achieve your daily recommended intake of dietary fibre. Snacking on nuts, seeds and fruits is also a healthier way to get your daily fibre intake. In doing so, you can improve your health in more ways than you know.
Looking for ways to improve your Gut Health?
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