We’ve all heard about the need to include fibre in our diets, but why is it so important?
Dietary fibre refers to nutrients in the diet that are not digested by gastrointestinal enzymes. They are derived from the indigestible portion of plant food that pushes through our digestive system, absorbing water along the way and easing bowel movements.
The typical western diet is high in animal products, such as meat, cheese, and milk, and refined grain products. These products, however, do not contain sufficient sources of fibre. In fact, with cereal-based foods such as breakfast cereals, pasta, rice and bread, the amount of fibre depends on how much of the outer layer of the grain has been stripped away in the milling and refining process. The more processing a cereal has been through, the lower its fibre content will be. Meanwhile, it’s not just fibre that’s lost during processing. Many vitamins and minerals are also found in the outer layers of the grain, so when these are removed, these vitamins and minerals are also lost. As a golden rule, it’s best to choose brown over white. For example, white bread, croissants, cornflakes and white rice should stay on the shelf, while wholegrain bread, whole-wheat pasta, bran flakes and brown rice should go into the shopping basket.
So, why is it so important to include fibre in our diets? Fibre is vital to the processes that remove waste and toxins from our body. It helps to clean the colon, support our healthy intestinal bacteria, and slow the digestion of food so that we can go longer before feeling hungry and our blood sugar remains at a healthy level. Consumption of a low-fibre diet is associated with constipation, haemorrhoids, diverticular disease, heart problems, and weight gain.
There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Both types of fibre are present in all plant foods and we need them both in our diets.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water. It slows the digestion and helps us feel full for longer. Soluble fibre reduces cholesterol, especially levels of LDL, andregulates sugar intake, which is especially useful for people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Food sources of soluble fibre include, for example: kidney beans, pinto beans, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, courgettes, apples, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, prunes, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. It adds bulk to our waste, helping to prevent constipation and keep our bowels working well. Insoluble fibre speeds up the elimination of toxic waste through the colon and importantly, by keeping an optimal pH in the intestines, it helps prevent colorectal cancer.Food sources of insoluble fibre include: dark green leafy vegetables, root vegetable skins, fruit skins, whole wheat products, wheat bran, corn bran, nuts, and seeds.
Dietary fibre is an essential part of our nutrition. Andthe good news is that it is very easy to boost your fibre intake by adding just a few high-fibre foods to your everyday diet. However, when you increase your fibre intake, make sure you increase your water intake as well. Also, it’s better to increase slowly, to give your body time to adjust and avoid stomach problems. The recommended daily amount of fibre is 25 grams.
Here are some common high-fibre foods you can add to your diet. Include a new one each week and you will very quickly reach the recommended intake of fibre.
Apples and pears – these fruits are an inexpensive and easily available source of fibre. Eat them with their skins, as the peel is an important source of fibre and phytochemicals.
Parsnip – this root looks like a white carrot but has a distinct, delicate and delicious taste. You can use it in the same ways you would use a carrot. Ittastes great roasted!
Broccoli –it is a great source of fibre, along with a huge dose of vitamin C and vitamin K. If you’re cooking it, don’t overcook — steam until it is bright green, and keep it crunchy to help maintain some of the fibre and nutrients.
Brussel sprouts – do not over-boil them. This vegetable is absolutely delicious when it has been roasted and caramelized, or even shredded and added raw to salads. Give it another chance!
Spinach – use baby spinach in your smoothies or salads to get some extra fibre, along with a boost of iron.
Quinoa – if you haven’t tried this superfood yet, now is the perfect time! Combine cooked chilled quinoa with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, spring onionand coriander. Season to taste and enjoy this salad.Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa and serve as breakfast porridge. Sprouted quinoa can be used in salads and sandwiches.Add quinoa to your favourite vegetable soups.Quinoa is great to use in tabouli.
Legumes – many global cuisines are rich in legumes, and for good reason: they’re a wonderful source of fibre and also provide a vegetarian source of protein. Add cooked black beans or kidney beans to an omelette. Add chickpeas to Greek salad and spread sandwiches with hummus (chickpea purée) instead of mayonnaise. Enjoy minestrone, split pea, black bean or lentil soup instead of the usual chicken noodle.
Flax Seeds – these seeds are excellent because they contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, and our body needs both kinds for different reasons. Try adding a teaspoon of ground flax to your breakfast like oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies or cereal in the mornings.
Chia Seeds – the mild, nutty flavour of chia seeds makes them easy to add to foods and beverages. They are most often sprinkled on cereal, sauces, vegetables, rice dishes, or yogurt, or mixed into drinks and baked goods.
So, pick one or two ideas to try each week and stick to those that work best for you and your family!
Hannah Demarest says
This is really well explained. Articles about nutrition are often full of scientific terms and abstract information, and at the end you still don’t know what to do to improve your diet. This is concrete and useful – thank you!