What if I told you that I had a secret food ingredient that is guaranteed to help you feel full for hours, aids in digestion, reduces your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and high cholesterol, helps flush fat out of your system, adds texture to food, keeps you regular, and has ZERO calories? Would you want to get some of this? What would you be willing to pay for this magic supplement?
As it turns out, not only does this fantastic food component exist abundantly in nature, it costs you virtually NOTHING! So what is the big F-word for health and weight loss? The answer is simple: fibre (or, if you’re in the US, fiber).
According to research published in The Journal of Nutrition the ‘secret’, proven way to prevent weight gain or even encourage weight loss without dieting is, of course, to consume more fibre.
As reported in a recent ‘Eating Well’ article, researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah followed the eating habits of 252 middle-aged women for nearly two years and found that those who increased their fibre intake generally lost weight. Women who decreased the fibre in their diets gained weight.
The research scientists found that increasing fibre by 8 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed resulted in losing about 4½ pounds (2kg) over the course of the study.
While it helps you feel full, “fibre has no calories,” says Larry Tucker, Ph.D., lead researcher and professor in the Department of Exercise Sciences at Brigham Young.
How much fibre should you eat?
The USDA recommends 14 grams of fibre for every 1,000 calories consumed by healthy adults. So a person eating 2,000 calories a day should aim to get at least 28 grams (or more) of fibre daily.
Most Australians do not consume enough fibre. On average, most Australians consume 20–25g of fibre daily, whereas the Australian Heart Foundation recommends that adults should aim to consume approximately 25–30g daily.
You could easily meet or exceed the recommended amount of daily fibre by eating the following healthy plant foods over the course of a day:
- ½ cup oatmeal (3 grams fibre)
- 1 small banana (3 grams)
- ½ cup cooked red or black beans (7 grams)
- 1 small apple (5 grams)
- ½ cup lentils (8 grams)
- and ½ cup blueberries (3 grams)
Dangers of a low-fibre diet
Reducing the amount of fibre-rich, whole plant foods in your diet is dangerous to your health. Disorders that can arise from a low-fibre diet include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Heart disease
- Bowel cancer
Note that animal products have no fibre at all, so the more meat, dairy and eggs you consume, the less room in your diet for this important food component.
What is dietary fibre?
Dietary fibre is a type of complex carbohydrate made up of the indigestible parts or compounds of plants, which pass relatively unchanged through our stomach and intestines. Other terms for dietary fibre include ‘bulk’ and ‘roughage’, which can be misleading since some forms of fibre are water-soluble and aren’t bulky or rough at all.
Unlike other food components such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates that your body breaks down and absorbs, your body doesn’t digest fibre. Rather, fibre passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, and colon, and out of your body.
Types of fibre
There are two categories of fibre, commonly classified as soluble (dissolves in water) or insoluble (doesn’t dissolve), and we need to eat both in our daily diets. They are:
- Soluble fibre – includes pectins, gums and mucilage, which are found mainly in plant cells. This type of fibre dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. One of its major roles is to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Good sources of soluble fibre include fruits, vegetables, oat bran, barley, seed husks, flaxseed, psyllium, dried beans, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, lentils, peas, and soy products.
- Insoluble fibre – includes cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin, which make up the structural parts of plant cell walls. A major role of insoluble fibre is to add bulk to faeces and to prevent constipation and associated problems such as haemorrhoids. This type of fibre promotes the movement of waste material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, which helps with constipation. Good sources include wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans and whole-grain foods.
Health benefits of fibre
Both types of fibre are beneficial to the body and most plant foods contain a mixture of both types – soluble and insoluble fibre. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fibre (whole plant-based) foods.
Individuals with high intakes of dietary fibre appear to be at significantly lower risk for developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases. Increasing fibre intake lowers blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels. Increased intake of soluble fibre improves glycaemia and insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic and diabetic individuals.
Why fibre is important for healthy weight loss
- High-fibre foods require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry, so you’re less likely to overeat.
- A high-fibre diet tends to make meals feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time.
- High-fibre diets also tend to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
Your best food choices for fibre
Your best choices for fibre are healthy whole plant foods. These include:
- Whole-grain foods
- Beans, peas and other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
Remember, fibre is only found in abundance in relatively unprocessed, whole plant foods. Refined or processed foods such as canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white breads and pastas, and non-whole-grain cereals are lower in fibre. The grain-refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which lowers its fibre content, as does removing the skin from fruits and vegetables.
6 Ways To Fit Fibre Into Your Food
- Bulk-up at breakfast. For breakfast choose a high-fibre breakfast cereal such as rolled oats or a whole-grain cereal. Or try baked beans on whole wheat toast
- Have the whole grain. Choose breads that list whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label. Have brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur, instead of white rice and pasta.
- Vegify your meals. Add fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.
- Love your legumes. Lentils, beans, and peas excellent sources of fibre. Use lentils and beans in curries, stews, salads, Mexican dishes and soups.
- Go fruity. Apples, bananas, oranges, pears and berries are all good sources of fibre.
- Plant-power snacks. Instead of cookies, cake or chocolate, snack on fresh fruits, raw vegetables, low-fat popcorn and whole-grain crackers. 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 not only important to assist and sustain weight loss, but they’re good for your health. Be careful adding too much fibre to your meals at once, however, as this can lead to intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Gradually increase your dietary fibre over a period of a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.
Finally, drink plenty of water. Fibre works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky.