What Is Fibre?
Fibre is a complex carbohydrate (type of sugar) but unlike other carbohydrates, which are broken down by the body to provide fuel in the form of glucose, fibre cannot be digested by the human body.
We gain no nutrients or energy from fibre, it holds no calories as it is not digested, but passes through our digestive systems.
Fibre or ‘roughage’ does, however, provide an important function in the body; it is essential to a well-tuned digestive system and can help the body remove potentially harmful waste.
TYPES OF FIBRE
There are two main types of fibre – soluble and insoluble – both are beneficial to health.
Soluble fibre dissolves in the stomach creating a sticky gel-like substance – a type of glue. This ‘glue’ traps certain components of food, fats and sugars, making them more difficult for the body to absorb.
This means that sugars (carbohydrates) are absorbed more slowly and blood sugar levels are kept steadier for longer. Foods high in fibre and complex carbohydrates tend to have lower GI scores, sugars are released more slowly.
When soluble fibre dissolves it can also bind to certain fats in our stomachs. People who have high fibre diets are less likely to suffer from high cholesterol. Fibre can bind to and absorb cholesterol in the intestine before it can enter the bloodstream. This is especially the case for low-density lipoproteins (LDL) the ‘bad’ cholesterol which, in high levels, can lead to serious health problems. People who want to lower their cholesterol are therefore advised to eat high fibre foods as well as reducing their intake of saturated and trans fats.
Foods that contain good levels of soluble fibre include:
1. Oats and barley
2. Most beans and peas
3. Whole grains – as found in cereals and brown bread
4. Nuts and seeds
5. Fruit and vegetables
Insoluble Fibre does not dissolve in water or your stomach.
Rather it absorbs water and increases in size – as insoluble fibre passes through your digestive system it provides bulk and moisture to stools, a natural laxative effect, thus reducing the symptoms of constipation. Bulkier stools are also helpful in cleaning the wall of the intestine removing wastes and promoting a healthy colon.
People who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) should be cautious about eating foods high in insoluble fibre on an empty stomach. Although insoluble fibre is important to a healthy diet it may trigger symptoms of IBS, it is therefore recommended that sufferers mix high insoluble fibre foods with other less fibrous foods to minimise problems.
Foods that contain good levels of insoluble fibre include:
1. Whole grain wheat – as it includes bran
2. Corn (including popcorn)
3. Oats and oat bran
5. Fruit and vegetables (especially the skins).
It is a well-known fact that fibre plays an important part in a healthy diet.
Although we gain no energy or nutrients from fibre, as we cannot digest it, it helps to keep our digestive systems healthy and can have other beneficial effects – like lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of certain cancers. Furthermore high fibre foods make us feel fuller for longer and can therefore be useful for weight loss.