Fibre: Benefits and how to Increase its amount in your diet

3 minutes

Eat more fibre. You have probably heard it before. But do you know why fibre is so good for your health?
Fibre — found mainly in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fibre can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Dietary fibre includes all parts of plant foods that our body cannot digest or absorb. Instead, it passes relatively intact through the digestive system and passes out of the body.
A high-fibre diet:
• Normalizes bowel movement: Fibre increases the weight and size of stool and softens it. A bulky stool is easier to pass, decreasing the chance of constipation.
• Helps maintain bowel health: A high-fibre diet may lower the risk of developing haemorrhoids (piles) and other intestinal disorders.
• Lowers cholesterol levels: Soluble fibre found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that fibre may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure.
• Helps control blood sugar levels: In people with diabetes, fibre can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes fibre may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
• Aids in achieving healthy weight: High-fibre foods generally require more chewing time, which gives the body time to register that I am not hungry anymore, so less chances of overeating. Plus you feel full for a longer duration after eating high fibre foods and meals high in fibre are usually low in calories. So you end up consuming lesser calories.
How much fibre do you need each day?
The amount of fibre a person needs depends on the age and gender. Men 50 years of age and younger should consume at least 38 g of fibre / day, while older than 50 years should aim for at least 30 g of fibre daily. Women of 50 years or younger should consume at least 25 g of fibre / day, while older than 50 years should aim for at least 21 g of fibre daily. (Institute of Medicine, 2012)
Try the following ideas to increase the fibre in your diet:
1. Eat at least 2 cups of fruits and 2½ cups of vegetables each day. Fruits and vegetables that are high in fibre include: pears, green peas, berries, prunes, figs, dates, spinach, apples, oranges, beans like kidney beans (rajmah) to name a few.
2. Replace refined white bread with whole-grain breads and cereals. Eat brown rice instead of white rice. Add wheat bran to flour while making dough for chappati. Eat more of foods like oatmeal, bran or multiple-grain cereals, cooked or dry.
3. When purchasing foods from store, check the nutrition information labels for the amounts of dietary fibre in each product. Aim for 2-5 g fibre / serving.
4. For breakfast choose a high-fibre breakfast cereal. Opt for cereals which say ‘whole grain’, ‘bran’ or ‘fibre’ in the name.
5. Fresh fruits, raw vegetables and whole-grain crackers are all good options for high fibre snacks. An occasional handful of nuts or dried fruits also is a healthy, high-fibre snack — although be aware that nuts and dried fruits are high in calories.
High-fibre foods are good for health but adding too much fibre too quickly can promote gas, bloating and cramping. Fibre should be increased gradually over a period of a few weeks. This allows the digestive system to adjust to the change. Also, drink plenty of water (min. 8 glasses / day) as fibre works best when it absorbs water.

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