When you are on a diet plan, the one thing, almost everyone – from your aunt to your neighbour, and your dietician – will recommend is to increase the intake of fibre. Fibre can have a powerful effect on the body’s metabolism. It can magically transform food into something that helps you stay nourished and healthy, and eliminate the potential risk of developing cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or obesity. And personally, since I have always suffered from constipation, fibre has been an easy aid and a must-have.
In spite of this, most Australians (even the weight conscious ones) do not consume the right amount of fibre. It is my opinion that not enough light has been shed on the details like, – which specific type of fibre can help you lose weight? (because not all types do). And, what general guidelines should be followed to make this process more effective? For this reason, in this article, I aim to explore the benefits of fibre, along with the particular role it plays in weight management, and the best ways to successfully and immediately apply this information to your health plan.
What is fibre?
Fibre is primarily carbohydrate, including the indigestible parts of plants, which pass relatively unchanged through our stomachs and intestines. Fibre is found in cereals, vegetables and fruits. They may be classified as soluble or insoluble, depending on whether they dissolve in liquids. It is the soluble fibre that can help you lose weight.
Tip: Adults should consume no lower than 25 to 30 grams of fibre, daily.
The digestive system is lined with muscles that are designed to massage the food along, using a process called peristalsis. As the soluble fibre passes through, it soaks up water like a sponge. And this mass gets massaged through the gut as peristalsis happens, in effect cleansing the tract.
Some good sources of soluble fibre include vegetables, fruits, seed husks, flaxseed, barley, oat bran, dried beans, lentils, peas, soy milk and soy products. It is the pectins, gums and mucilage, found in these sources that are considered soluble fibre. They help in lowering LDL or bad cholesterol levels in the body, along with supporting a number of other positive outcomes:
The human gut, especially the large intestine is home to over 100 trillion bacteria. The different types of bacteria here play their roles in different aspects of health, including – weight management, immunity, blood sugar control, and even brain function. When soluble fibre reaches the large bowel, it is subject to breakdown by the bacteria present there. This is known as a prebiotic effect. The fermentation of fibre results in the production of short-chain fatty acids, (particularly butyrate, a substance which maintains the bowel lining). These fatty acids are also absorbed into the bloodstream and may play a role in lowering blood cholesterol levels.
Resistant Starch too behaves in a manner similar to soluble fibre.
Tip: It is best to get your fill of fibre from natural food (use supplements when necessary).
The short-chain fatty acids produced by the bacteria of the gut are also fed to the colon. This is known to reduce inflammatory disorders, possibly through their effect on the hormone – leptin. Studies have indicated that inflammation may be a leading cause of obesity.
High-fibre food tends to have a lower calorie concentration. This means that it provides fewer kilojoules of energy per gram of food. As a result, a person on a high-fibre diet can consume the same amount of food, and gain fewer calories.
This, in turn, leads to another advantage. Since soluble fibre produces fewer calories, there is a serious reduction in the rise of blood glucose after eating. Therefore, there is reduced demand for insulin. This is important for people at risk of obesity and those suffering from diabetes.
Tip: Read the food labels. Lignin and resistant starch are detected by the official AOAC method for measurement of fibre and reported as such on food labels.
Often the consumption of fibre makes us feel satiated or ‘full’ and we continue to eat less. It is the viscous soluble fibres such as psyllium, β-glucans, glucomannan and guar gum, that thicken and form a gel-like substance. Due to its viscosity, this substance remains in the gut, creating a sense of ‘fullness’ for prolonged durations.
As a health coach, I can say this with confidence, that reaching your target of 30 grams of daily fibre intake is not far-fetched. In fact, simple considerations such as – adding vegetables to your meals, snacking on organic dried fruits and nuts, switching to brown rice, multigrain bread and wholemeal crackers, and focusing on homemade muesli or granola and oats for breakfast – can do the trick.
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