Fibre or roughage is undoubtedly one of the most ignored aspects of nutrition. A meal that is well-balanced and wholesome, meaning it has fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains, automatically has everything that our human body needs. When we start to eliminate a certain food group or move away from nature and move towards processed foods, that’s when we notice nutritional deficiencies, including the lack of fibre.
Most modern diets today are low on fibre because foods are processed, refined and polished to such an extent that most of the fibre gets stripped off in processing. Polished rice, refined wheat flour and products made from that are some examples. This is why packaged and refined foods are bad for us.
Fibre may not be classified as a nutrient but it has a huge role to play in boosting our health, right from regulating our hunger and sugar levels to assisting fat loss or lipid control.
Types of Fibre
There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre easily dissolves in water and gets broken down into a gel-like substance whereas insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve or get digested in the gut. Both forms of fibre have health benefits.
- Soluble fibre: flaxseeds, apple, sabja seeds, strawberries, onions, psyllium husk
- Insoluble: green leafy vegetables, whole grains, carrots, celery
Recommended amount: Women should get about 25 grams a day and men at least 35 to 40. However, in today’s time, the average a person manages is just about 15 grams a day.
Benefits of Fibre
Fibre & Fat Loss
- Fibre isn’t a magic ingredient to lose weight, but eating a fibre rich diet along with other lifestyle changes does assist fat loss in a number of ways.
- Soluble fibre helps increase the satiety value of a meal and thus makes you feel fuller for longer. So lesser chances of overeating or eating too often.
- Insoluble fibre physically fills up the space in our stomach and that makes us feel full too.
- Lack of fibre can create havoc with your blood sugar levels and that in turn leads to fat gain.
Fibre & Gut Health
- Constipation is one of the most common outcomes of low fibre diet. It’s also one of the deadliest conditions to have because chronic constipation and build-up of toxins in our body can predispose us to many health conditions – from piles, haemorrhoids to cancer.
- Fibre (insoluble) helps add bulk to the stool and acts as a natural broom to sweep the colon clean. Hence its important to eat adequate fibre for easier evacuation. It has more of a mechanical and laxative role rather than a nutritional role to play. Also, fibre (soluble fibre) acts as a prebiotic food, which the probiotics (good gut bacteria) feed on and thereby helping the gut bacteria thrive longer.
Fibre & Diabetes
Fibre plays a crucial role in blood sugar management. It does so by increasing the glycaemic load of a meal and the rate at which sugar gets released into the blood stream. In fact, adding fibre to meals can actually allow you to eat a variety of food that otherwise, you would not be allowed to consume.
Fibre & Heart Health
Boosting soluble fibre intake is one of the most natural ways of reducing high cholesterol levels in the body and the risk of coronary artery disease. It does so by pulling away excess cholesterol and fat globules from the body. Fibre also prevents dietary cholesterol from being broken down and digested.
Ideas to Get in More Fibre
Eating fibre-rich whole foods — not foods that say “added fibre” — is the best way to increase your fibre intake.
So, salads, fruits (with skin if applicable but only if organic), stir-fry vegetables, boiled sweet potato, green leafy vegetables, sattu, unstrained vegetable juice, soups are some sneaky ways to get in fibre into your eating plan.
If one is travelling, it can be a real challenge to eat as much fibre as your body needs. Hence, getting a dose of natural fibre through psyllium husk can be of great help. 2-3 tsp of this mixed with water can lead to a smoother poop the next morning.
Sprinkling flaxseed powder, soaked sabja seeds over fruits also help boost fibre intake.
Other high-fibre superfoods are prunes, black raisins, dates, figs and apricots. Whole grains like hand pounded rice, khapli wheat, bajra, jowar, ragi, amaranth are good sources of fibre too!
Is Fibre for All?
When it comes to fibre, the amount and type to be consumed must be personalised according to one’s health condition. Most of the people complain that fibre leaves them feeling bloated, however that’s not the case.
The problem is not with the fibre but one’s inability to digest it. For people with compromised gut health like IBS, GERD, Crohn’s and other autoimmune cases, its advisable that we play smart with fibre.
Some maybe able to digest small quantities of fibre at a time, some pre-digested/fermented fibre rich foods and some may find it easier to digest fibre rich foods that are either cooked or mashed so that the fibre gets broken down.
Caution with fibre :
As with everything, excess of fibre is bad too . Loading up on fibre can do more harm than good. Overdoing on fibre can cause digestive discomfort even in healthy individuals right from bloating, gas to constipation and inflammation of intestinal linings. It can even block nutrition absorption in the gut. Loading up your plate on fibre thinking that it will help you lose weight is a myth. Eat adequate fibre and never overdo.
(Luke Coutinho is a Holistic Lifestyle Coach - Integrative Medicine. He treats patients with disease and specializes in cancer with a holistic and integrative approach worldwide.)