The Importance of Fibre
We require a good combination of macronutrients and micronutrients for a healthy body. Fibre is one of those macronutrients (carbohydrate) that plays a key role in our good health, especially the health of our digestive system.
What is fibre?
Fibre is a carbohydrate that is not digested by our body. There are two types of fibre:
Soluble fibre dissolves in water and helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. This type of fibre can be found in oats, barley, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, and carrots.
This does not dissolve in water and hence increases stool bulk, benefiting those with irregular stools. This type of fibre can be found in whole grains, whole-wheat flour and vegetables like cauliflower and potatoes.
What role does fibre play in the human body?
It is easy to assume here that fibre is not important for the body: after all, it passes out of the body almost as compact as it first came into the body. But that’s not the case. Fibre is very important for a healthy gut and healthy stools, which can make a huge difference in your daily life. Fibre helps fight various health problems such as constipation and diarrhoea, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer, etc.
1. Constipation and diarrhea [keeps your bowel healthy]
Fibre bulks up your stool and softens it, making it easier to pass. It also helps solidify the stool, and the bulk solves the problem of loose stools. Fibre also lowers your risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticular diseases.
2. Obesity [helps maintain a balanced weight]
Foods that are rich in fibre are “energy dense”, more filling, and take longer to eat than low-fibre foods. This allows you to eat less food and stay full for longer, and also reduce the number of calories for the same amount of food.
3. Diabetes [controls blood sugar levels]
Soluble fibre slows down the absorption of sugar in the body and helps control the blood sugar levels. This may reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
4. Cardiovascular diseases [lowers cholesterol levels]
Soluble fibre lowers the “bad” cholesterol in the body, which may help lower total blood cholesterol levels. This may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
5. Cancer [longevity of life]
Studies suggest that suitable fibre intake reduces the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
Role as a prebiotic
Prebiotics are helpful compounds that induce the growth of “good” bacteria in the body, especially in the gut. This is where prebiotic fibre comes into play: they nourish the “good” bacteria in your gut, suppress the “bad” bacteria and keep your digestive system healthy. Prebiotic fibre can be found in foods such as bananas, apples, onions, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, leeks, soybeans, chicory, oats and honey. It is important to note that prebiotic is a type of fibre, and not all fibre is prebiotic in nature.
Where can you get the fibre?
Here are some fibre-rich foods:
- Whole-grain products
- Beans, peas and other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
It is important to note that refined, processed or canned foods are low in fibre. So always opt for fresh food.
How much fibre should you consume?
The Institute of Medicine (US) gives the following daily fibre recommendations for adults:
Age 50 or younger Age 51 or older
Men 38 grams 30 grams
Women 25 grams 21 grams
What if you have too much fibre?
While fibre does help solve and reduce the risk of certain health problems, eating too much fibre can cause problems of its own. Fibre makes stools bulkier, but too much of it can affect the digestive system adversely, causing bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and constipation or diarrhea. Too much fibre can also bind with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and ion, leading to poor absorption of nutrients. This causes nutrient deficiency. So, it is very important to consume only the recommended amount of fibre on a daily basis.
Yes, fibre does pass out through your body relatively intact as compared to other foods. But don’t let that stop you from maximising its benefits. As long as you consume the recommended quantity of fibre everyday, you should have a healthy gut and lead a longer life. So, when are you going to prioritise your fibre intake?