Adequate intake of fibre is essential for better digestion, weight loss, and heart health. Dietary fibre or roughage is the edible part of a plant that remains undigested and unabsorbed in the small intestine. Dietary fibres are non-digestible carbohydrates found in foods. Unlike other macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, fibre can’t be metabolised by the body. It passes as it is out of the body via the stomach, small intestine and colon. Many of the benefits of fibre come through the intervention of gut bacteria.
Types of Fibre:
1. Soluble fibre: Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the stomach. The bacteria present in the large intestine further break down this gel. Soluble fibre reduces bad cholesterol or LDL and helps regulate blood sugar levels by delaying the process of digestion. Foods rich in soluble fibre include oat bran, barley, nuts and seeds, beans, peas, lentils, apples, carrots, and citrus fruits. It is also present in a well-known fibre supplement called psyllium husk.
2. Insoluble fibre: Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and passes through the gastrointestinal tract. It adds bulk to the stool and therefore works well to prevent constipation. Sources of insoluble fibre include whole grain foods like brown rice, whole wheat pasta/bread, wheat bran, quinoa, sweet potatoes, dried apricots, prunes, nuts, radish, spinach, okra, among others.
RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of fibre and side-effects of its excessive intake:
Men should include 30 grams of fibre in their everyday diet, whereas women should aim for 25 grams daily. Very high-fibre diets (more than 50 grams/day) can lead to decreased absorption of minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium. The excess fibre in the diet binds with these minerals and forms insoluble salts. These salts are then excreted out of the body and may result in mineral deficiencies.
Benefits of including fibre in diet:
1. Lowers cholesterol: Including fibre in the diet reduces the risk of cholesterol and heart diseases. Fibre binds to the bile (a digestive fluid that helps in fat metabolism) and removing toxins out of the body.
2. Helps regulate blood glucose levels: Fibre possesses the excellent property of slowing down the digestion process, preventing blood sugar levels from rising.
3. Weight control: A high-fibre diet keeps you full for longer, preventing overeating, thus helping with weight management.
4. Reduces the risk of intestinal cancer: Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the diet and increases the speed of food moving through the intestinal tract, which reduces the time for toxic substances to build up.
5. Improves gut health: Humans can’t digest fibre, thus it reaches the large intestine undigested. Fibre feeds the intestine’s ‘good bacteria’, which contains enzymes to digest some parts of these fibres. These good bacteria work as prebiotics that enhances gut health.
6. Constipation: Fibre regulates the bowel movements and prevents constipation by adding bulk to the stool.
Health risks associated with a low-fibre diet:
- High BMI and Obesity
- Heart diseases
- High cholesterol/Dyslipidemia
- Cancers like bowel cancer or breast cancer
When to consider a low-fibre diet?
There are certain physiological conditions where fibre is not digested well and may even worsen the existing medical problems -
- Gastrointestinal problems like IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis.
- Before or after bowel surgery.
- Irritation or damage in the digestive tract
- Abdominal cramps
How to increase fibre intake in daily diet:
- Add boiled/steamed beans and legumes to your salads. 1/2 cup serving will provide 7 to 8 grams of fibre.
- Opt for whole fruits over juices as they don't have fibre.
- Add nuts and seeds to your smoothies and shakes as they are rich in fibre content.
- To improve the fibre intake, you can also add healthy recipes to your daily diet. These include beans and kale soup; amaranth porridge; prunes and oats pancakes; puffed quinoa and peanut butter balls; couscous salad; chickpeas salad; strawberry and chia oatmeal and sprouts sandwich.
Dietary fibre is a quintessential part of a healthy lifestyle. Fibre-rich diets have numerous health benefits- from preventing cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes to better gut health and weight management. Thus, it becomes important to incorporate a decent serving of fibre-rich foods on everday basis for maintaining an optimum overall health.