Like it or not, the daily movement of our bowels is far more central to our weight control, our well-being, and in fact, to our very existence, than we realize. There’s a reason why the ‘throne’, as it is sometimes referred to, is the most important seat in our homes.
So what does that have to do with the fibre in our diet?
There’s a direct correlation, as you will see. Fibre acts like a natural broom that sweeps the colon clean, and fights the buildup of toxins and bad bacteria which are the root cause of any number of diseases and chronic health conditions.
So what exactly is fibre?
Fibre, or rather, dietary fibre, refers to the indigestible parts of plant-based fibre rich foods – the hull, the skin, etc. It is also known as roughage or bulk. Unlike other carbs, fibre does not get broken down into sugar, but passes through the intestines relatively intact. On its journey down though, fiber does a lot of work.
|Fact: Fibre is a mix of soluble and insoluble parts, neither of which is absorbed by the body.|
What happens when you eat fibre rich foods?
The soluble part of the fibre turns into gel in the stomach and regulates the speed of digestion, allowing for greater absorption of nutrients and contributing to the feeling of being full, or satiety. It lowers cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of coronary artery disease. And it reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by helping control blood sugar levels — useful for people with any type of sugar problem.
The insoluble fibre, on the other hand, which constitutes the bulk of our waste, is great for digestive disorders. It helps clean the intestinal tract and makes it easier for you to poop. This means that skipping your daily dose of fibre can lead to constipation.
|Fiber rich foods are important for digestion, weight management, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol.|
There are many reasons why high fibre foods help in weight control:
- Fiber bulks up your diet – This increases satiety levels, which means it makes you feel full sooner, and that feeling stays with you longer, so you automatically stop craving more food.
- It has a low calorific content – Including high-fiber and low calorie foods like fruits and vegetables in your diet makes it easier for you to cut calories.
- It regulates blood sugar levels – Fibre helps maintain your body’s fat-burning capacity by eliminating insulin spikes that drain you out, and leave you craving unhealthy foods.
- It speeds up your digestion – It is fiber that moves fat through your digestive system, so make sure you eat enough to move it through faster, so less fat is absorbed.
- Fibre rich foods keep the gut healthy – Fibre nourishes the good bacteria in your gut and helps maintain the delicate balance between bad microbes and the good ones. Read on to see how this, really, is its most important contribution towards weight control.
|Did you know that bad bacteria can actually make you obese? It does this by causing metabolic changes that promote excessive appetite and fat storage.|
Fibre – good for the gut
Everyone is talking about gut bacteria and probiotics these days, for good reason. Probiotics are the good bacteria that protect and defend your gut from the bad guys, because, as everyone now knows, bad bacteria can make us sick in a million ways.
Now while probiotics do improve gut health, a better way is to feed the existing good bacteria so they do their job more efficiently. How, you ask? With fibre rich foods!
Fibre is food, also known as prebiotics, to the good bacteria, or probiotics. Your beneficial gut microbes feast on fermentable fibres, extracting extra energy, nutrients and vitamins from them, and fighting the bad disease causing bacteria. If you don’t feed them they start nibbling on your gut’s protective lining. Not a good thing at all. Since over 70 percent of our immune cells are found in the gut’s mucosal lining. A healthy gut, therefore, means higher immunity.
|An interesting fact: Good bacteria thrive on fiber, and ask for more. The bad ones consume sugar and also demand more. So if you feed the bad guys, your sugar cravings increase, and if you nourish the beneficial microbes your brain will ask for the good stuff. So you know what to do!|
How much fibre per day should one have?
The exact amount differs with gender and age, but to give you a rough estimate, about 20 to 35 grams per day is a good amount for an adult. Make sure you read the nutrition label on packaged foods to know the number of grams of dietary fiber per serving.
How can we add fibre to our diet?
You don’t have to look far from home to find a fibre rich diet. Our grandmothers really knew it all. They fed us a diet high in fruits and vegetables; grains and beans; and nuts and seeds, and that’s all there is to it.
Here are some more tips on how to add fibre to your diet:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables. Everyone now knows the benefits of these in our daily diet. Try as wide a variety of them as is possible.
- Whole grains are better than refined. There are many delicious varieties of rice you can choose from, so why go with the herd and choose white?
- Millets, a traditional local food grain, has been consumed by our forefathers for centuries. A rich source of fibre, they are also nutritionally superior to rice and wheat in terms of protein, vitamins and minerals. There are 9 varieties, navdanya, which include well-known varieties like bajra, ragi and jowar, as well as lesser know ones like proso and kodo. So you have lots to experiment with
- Nuts and seeds. Almonds and peanuts, flax, chia and basil, all rich sources of fibre, omega 3 fats, and they have a host of other benefits too.
Again, how can we actually add fibre to our diet!
To incorporate these ingredients into your diet, take your old favourite recipes and try revamping your routine food repertoire. They are surprisingly easy to integrate into a wide variety of cuisines.
Here are some ideas on how to do it:
- Fibre rich cereals: Start the day with millet or corn flakes. Just make sure they are minimally processed and have no added sugars. Add some raisins or sultanas if you want to sweeten it.
- Substitute whole grains for refined in your meals: Millets are the original fibre rich foods. You can easily substitute millets for rice in at least one meal in the day. If you still prefer rice, try minimally refined varieties, like red, brown or black rice.
- Use whole meal in your breads and chapattis: Add a handful of ragi, jowar, bajra or even mixed millet flour to refibre your regular atta. Millet flour is gluten-free so you might want to start with a smaller quantity at first so your chappati doesn’t fall apart. You’ll grow to love the wholesome taste though, so we are sure you will figure out a way to increase the proportions!
Some more ideas:
- Dry roast, powder and store flax seeds. To use just sprinkle on your breakfast cereal, on salads and yoghurt, on baked goodies and even add it to the chutney powder you eat with your idli/dosa.
- Nuts and seeds like peanuts, almonds, chia or basil are great for bulking up your meal. You could dry roast them and add them to salads or sprinkle on your cooked vegetables for added flavor and vitamins.
- Breads and biscuits are normally made with refined flour and sugar. No need to cut them completely out of your diet though. Substitute them with breads and biscuits made with whole meal flours and mixed millets instead.
Go on, try them. Your gut will be everlastingly grateful. Your palate will thank you too!
Statutory warning: Like everything else, fibre too should be taken in moderation, and increasing fibre in your diet should be done slowly and gently. Or it could lead to abdominal gas and bloating. Remember to drink recommended water/liquids if you’re taking fibre supplements.
Feedback is welcome. If you have any high fibre food ideas or suggestions, do post them below.