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The benefits of fibre

Published:Wednesday | March 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dietary Fibre is the term used to describe the indigestible parts of plant foods responsible for the many health benefits.

Fibre is of two main types. Soluble fibre is readily broken down (fermented) by bacteria in the colon and is important for the health of the good bacteria as well as the colon itself. Insoluble fibre, which remains unchanged, absorbs water and toxins throughout the digestive system and makes elimination easier. This fibre acts like a broom sweeping waste from the body.

The National Academy of Science recommends 30-38g/day of fibre for men and 21-25g/day for women. Sadly, people in modern Western societies consume, on average, less than 45 per cent of the daily required fibre intake.

For sugar, cholesteroland triglycerides

Fibre decreases the absorption rate of starches and sugars in the intestines and thus reduces glucose and triglycerides in the blood. Foods that are high in soluble fibre lower cholesterol levels in the blood.

Researchers discovered that patients taking cholesterol-lowering drugs could reduce the dose by 50 per cent by taking a fibre supplement.

Digestive health

Proper and timely elimination from the intestines is important, for many reasons. Toxins within the colon are absorbed by the blood and carried to the liver to be detoxified. Excess toxins can overload the liver and cause a host of problems.

On average, it takes 39 hours in women and 31 hours in men for the food that is eaten to pass through the colon and out of the body. This time varies from person to person, but increased fibre in the diet usually speeds up this process.

Lack of fibre can lead to constipation, haemorrhoids 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 fats makes colon cancer rare.

Two other common bowel disorders, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome, respond well to a high-fibre diet.

Weight Management

Refining of grains, which erodes fibre, has contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic of Western countries. This is because dietary fibre displaces calories, requires more time for chewing and slows eating while inducing fullness and reducing the efficiency of absorption.

High-fibre foods and fibre supplements assist compliance to low-calorie diets by decreased feelings of hunger and increased satiety.

Examples ofhigh-fibre foods:

Legumes and lentils: Beans and peas-like baked beans, kidney beans, split peas, dried limas, garbanzos, lentils, pinto beans, black beans, green beans and broad beans are all excellent sources of fibre.

Fruits: berries, cherries, plums, apples, guava, bananas.

Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, beet root, carrots, spinach, cabbage, callaloo, pak choi, beet greens and kale.

Tubers: yam, cocoa and dasheen.

Nuts: almonds, peanuts, pistachios and walnuts. Nuts are also high in fat content.

Cereals: Wholewheat and barley products, rye, oats, buckwheat and cornmeal.

Fibre supplements: As we eat more processed food, our diet becomes more fibre deficient. 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 bacteria supplement as this enhances the effectiveness of the fibre.

Safety considerations

Abruptly elevating the amount of fibre in the diet can lead to intestinal gas, diarrhoea, abdominal bloating, cramping and constipation. If you want to increase your fibre intake, gradually increase the amount over a few days to allow the colon to adjust to the change.

Drinking eight or more glasses of water every day can help prevent those problems. Those who decide to suddenly double or triple their fibre intake are advised to also double or triple their water intake.

Email Dr Tony Vendryes at visit him at, or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on Power 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m.