While we are all aware that dietary fibre is crucial for good health, do we really know the extent of its importance beyond the fact that it supports a healthy digestive system?
What is fibre and where is it found?
Fibre is made up of the indigestible parts or compounds of plants, which pass relatively unchanged through our stomach and intestines. Found mostly in fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals, fibre is mainly a carbohydrate
Here are reasons why fibre not only aids digestion but does so much more!
- Lowers Cholesterol
When blood cholesterol levels are high, fatty streaks and plaques are deposited along the walls of arteries. This can make them dangerously narrow and lead to an increased risk of coronary heart diseases such as angina or heart attack.
It is thought that soluble fibre lowers blood cholesterol by binding bile acids (which are made from cholesterol to digest dietary fats) and then excreting them.
2. Maintaining a healthy weight.
A high-fibre diet is protective against weight gain. High-fibre foods tend to have a lower energy density, which means they provide fewer kilojoules per gram of food. As a result, a person on a high-fibre diet can consume the same amount of food, but with fewer calories.
Foods high in fibre are often bulky and, therefore, filling. Soluble fibre forms a gel that slows down the emptying of the stomach and the transit time of food through the digestive system. This extends the time a person feels full.
Fibre also delays the absorption of sugars from the intestines. This helps to maintain lower blood sugar levels and prevent a rapid rise in blood insulin levels, which has been linked with obesity and an increased risk of diabetes.
3. Helps with Heart Health
Increasing dietary fibre and wholegrain intake is likely to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, weight gain and obesity, and increase your overall mortality.
It is also very likely that these observed health benefits occur indirectly, through the protective effects of ‘phytochemicals’ (such as antioxidants) that are closely associated with the fibre components of fruits, vegetables and cereal foods.
4. Combatting diabetes
Following a diet high in fibre slows glucose absorption from the small intestine into your blood. This reduces the possibility of a surge of insulin – the hormone produced by the pancreas to stabilise blood glucose levels.
5. Reducing the risk of bowel cancer.
Fibre is thought to decrease the risk of bowel cancer by increasing stool bulk, diluting possible carcinogens present in the diet and decreasing transit time through the colon. Bacterial fermentation of fibre also leads to the production of short-chain fatty acids, which are thought to have protective effects.
Other research has found that a 10g per day intake of total dietary fibre equates to a 10% reduction in risk of colorectal cancer.
6. Reducing the risk of breast cancer
One large-scale study also found that a higher fibre diet during adolescence and young adulthood may reduce breast cancer risks.
Simple suggestions for increasing your daily fibre intake include:
- Eat breakfast cereals that contain barley, wheat or oats.
- Switch to wholemeal or multigrain breads and brown rice.
- Add an extra vegetable to every evening meal.
- Snack on fruit, dried fruit, nuts or wholemeal crackers.
A daily intake of more than 30g (the recommended intake for adults per day) can be easily achieved if you eat:
- wholegrain cereal products
- more fruit, vegetables and legumes
- nuts or seeds instead of low-fibre cakes and biscuits.