Ounce of Prevention | Fill up with Fibre
Dietary fibre is the term that describes the indigestible parts of plant foods that account for many of the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Animal-derived foods contain no fibre. Fibre in food is of two main types.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water, is broken down (fermented) by bacteria in the colon and is important both for the bacteria as well as the colon itself. Insoluble fibre remains unchanged, absorbs water and toxins from the digestive tract and makes elimination easier. This fibre acts like a broom sweeping away waste and old cells from the colon.
The US National Academy of Science recommends over 30 grams of fibre for men and more than 20 grams for women per day. People in modern western societies consume, on average, less than half of those suggested daily levels.
Fibre is important
Fibre exerts a dramatic impact on many systems. Since it cannot be broken down by human digestion, fibre is fermented by beneficial bacteria in the colon. The breakdown products of fermentation improve digestive and general body health.
These substances are mostly special fatty acids, e.g. butyrate that nourish and protect the colon from cancer, infection and inflammation. They are also vital for normal immune function.
Recent research shows that these fibre-derived fatty acids powerfully modify how our genes express and influence our immune system and even our lifespan.
Fibre balances sugar and cholesterol
Fibre decreases the absorption rate of starches and sugars in the intestines and thus reduces glucose and triglycerides in the blood. Foods high in soluble fibre help to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Research even reveals that patients taking cholesterol-lowering drugs could cut their medication dose by 50 per cent by just taking a fibre supplement.
Fibre for digestive health
It is important that we eliminate stools from the intestines regularly. Toxic waste that sits in the colon too long get absorbed into the bloodstream and are sent to the liver to be detoxified. Excess toxins can overload the liver and create problems.
On average, it takes almost 40 hours in women and over 30 hours in men for the food that is eaten to pass through the colon and exit the body. This transit time varies greatly from person to person, but usually, the more fibre in the diet the faster the elimination process.
Lack of fibre can lead to constipation, diverticular disease, haemorrhoid's, and an increased risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer is extremely common, and the protective properties of dietary fibre against colon cancer are undisputed. A diet high in fibre and low in animal fat makes colon cancer rare.
Two common bowel disorders, diverticulitis and the irritable bowel syndrome, respond particularly well to a higher-fibre diet.
Fibre for weight management
Refining of grains has contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic in the western world by the removal of fibre. This is because dietary fibre lowers calorie intake, requires more time for chewing, and slows eating while inducing fullness and reducing the efficiency of absorption of fats.
High-fibre foods and fibre supplements make low-calorie diets easier to follow by decreased feelings of hunger and increased satiety.
- Legumes and lentils: Beans and peas like baked beans, kidney beans, split peas, dried limas, garbanzos, pinto beans, black beans, green beans and broad beans are all excellent sources of fibre.
- Fruits: berries, cherries, plums, apples, guava, bananas. Eat the pulp and when possible the skin.
- Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, beets, carrots, spinach, cabbage, callaloo, bok choy, greens and kale.
- Tubers: yams, cocoa, sweet potato, dasheen, breadfruit, cassava.
- Nuts: almonds, peanuts, pistachios, coconut and walnuts. Nuts, however, have a high fat content
- Cereals: whole wheat and barley products, rye, oats, buckwheat and cornmeal.
- Fibre supplements: Taking fibre supplements in addition to eating more fibre-rich foods is an excellent health strategy. I recommend a fibre powder containing a combination of different fibres. It easily dissolves in various liquids and is pleasant tasting. I also suggest taking a healthy probiotic bacteria supplement as this enhances the effectiveness of the fibre.
Safe use of fibre
An abrupt increase in the amount of dietary fibre can lead to intestinal gas, diarrhoea, abdominal bloating, cramping and/or constipation. To increase your fibre intake, do so gradually over several days to allow the colon to adjust to the change.
Drinking eight or more glasses of water every day can help prevent those problems. The more your fibre intake, the more water you need to drink.