Fibre refers to the indigestible portion of plants, the substances usually present in the cell wall that gives plants their structure and form. All plants in their natural state contain a special carbohydrate group of fibres.
Animal food or products have very little or no fibre at all. Fibre has certain characteristics. It gives the power to plants to grow structurally strong. Cellulose, hemi-cellulose, pectin, lignin and several other gums are found in the cell walls of all fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains.
Fibre or “roughage” is exclusively present in foods of plant origin. But the sad part is that our modern, fast paced life has altered our food habits drastically. Overburdened housewives and working women now run after processed food freely available in the market. Such foods are nothing but refined foods. Right from peeling till the food is packed, the most fibrous parts of plant are often discarded.
For example, the greatest amount of dietary fibre in wheat is the outer layer or bran, of the wheat grain. When white flour (maida) is produced, the bran layer is removed and the dietary fibre content of the flour is greatly reduced. Flour made from whole grains contains about three times as much as dietary fibre as white flour.
- Insoluble fibre: Fibre is the bulky part of food that isn’t broken down by enzymes in the small intestine. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and increases the bulk of the food. It is found in whole grains (wheat, oats, and barley), seeds, fruits and legumes (beans, peas, lentils).
- Soluble fibre: It is found in fruits, vegetables, brown rice, oats, pectin and seeds. The type of fibre we digest determines the benefits that it will give.
Though fibre by itself has little nutritional value, it is its bulk that provides us with a host of benefits.
- Help for the obese: Overweight individuals tend to gulp down their food. Fibrous food takes longer to chew and automatically slows down the speed of consumption. This chewing also prevents stomach cramps. These cramps usually occur if we consume our food quickly.
- Fighting cancer: A diet consisting of insoluble fibre may reduce your risk of colon cancer. Insoluble fibre passes through the body carrying cancer-causing substances through the digestive tract quickly. These foods reduce the time that potential carcinogens are in contact with the bowel by helping to move the intestine’s contents more speedily. Soluble fibre found in oats, barley and apples is thought to “bind” with carcinogens, thus rendering them inoperable.
- Reduces fat absorption: Dietary fibre cannot be digested by the small intestine but stimulates the passage of waste material through it to the large intestine. Here, it helps to escort certain dietary fats out of the body faster before they have a chance to be absorbed. This means you can actually consume these foods occasionally and still lose weight by allowing the body to continue the fat-burning process.
- Relieves constipation: In the bowels, it absorbs water-like sponge and expands, thus making a bulky waste matter pass easily. This helps to avoid constipation. So, whereas insufficient fibre can cause constipation, piles, hernia and appendicitis, sufficient fibre eliminates the need for a laxative.
- Prevents killer diseases: A diet rich in soluble fibre can help in reducing your risk of stroke, control diabetes, lower your blood cholesterol and lower the risk of cardiovascular (heart) diseases. It helps to reduce the amount of insulin released by the pancreas by slowing down the break-down of carbohydrates into glucose entering the bloodstream.
In addition, it reduces blood sugar swings. Fibre gives a nice, long, steady release of sugar into the bloodstream, reducing hunger pangs, headaches and fatigue produced by rapid drops in blood sugar.
- Appetite suppressant: It gives a feeling of fullness in the stomach and the hunger is satiated soon, thereby providing a decrease in the amount of food consumed.
- Dieter’s gift: For those who want to shed kilos and stay slim, fibre is a godsend. Since chewing time is more, it gives enough time to the brain to register what you are eating. The brain then switches off the hunger pangs. This limited food intake will help the dieters as well as those who want to go in for a balanced diet. Though fibre is not the cure for all weight control, when combined with a nutritious diet, it can help to lose weight.
- Nutrient rich: It is heartening to note that fibre is found in foods which are nutrient-rich. Hence, a fibre-rich diet is more likely to be a more healthy diet than a diet low in fibre. This is so because fibre is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Therefore, an increase in dietary fibre automatically leads to healthy eating habits. Meat, eggs and dairy products like milk, cheese and curd have no fibre at all. Refined grains have most of their fibres removed.
- Daily dose: Nutritionists say that 30-40 gm. of fibre a day is enough to keep one in good health. At least five servings of fruits and vegetables and three servings of whole grains fulfill your fibre requirement. Dry fruits like figs, prunes, raisins and apricots are among the richest sources of fibre. Other fruits include apples, guavas, peaches, pears, strawberries, oranges and watermelon. Legumes like rajma, lentils, black gram, kabuli channa, soya bean, peas and green leafy vegetables like cabbage and spinach are rich sources.
Some specific high-fibre food like methi seed powder, guargum, gond katira and curry leaf powder help to keep blood sugar and cholesterol levels normal.
As far as possible, eat whole foods in their natural form. Avoid too much peeling as vital vitamins and minerals are lost. Hence, we see that by consuming natural, whole and unrefined food daily, 30-40 gm. of fibre are provided which is more than adequate.
A few things should be kept in mind before increasing the fibre intake:-
- Intake should be increased gradually, slowly over a couple of weeks as it can lead to bloating and gas in the stomach. This gives the digestive system time to gradually adjust to the change.
- Drink plenty of fluids, a minimum of eight glasses of water, to avoid constipation. Also, we know that fibrous food draws water from the intestines also to facilitate a smooth bowel movement.
- Eat a variety of high-fibre food to draw the benefit from both the water soluble and water-insoluble foods.
- Lastly, remember that fibre adds no calories and, in general, causes improvement in gastrointestinal health as it is gut-friendly.