Dietary Fibre

It seems there is always something in our nutrition that the government is telling us we need to eat more of, and that by doing so there are a whole host of diseases that we can prevent. Fibre is another that can be added to the long list of candidates, i.e. iron, calcium, vitamin C, etc.

The cynical few among you might think it’s just another government campaign put in place to help lower obesity and maybe win a few votes at the same time. Or maybe you’re more of an optimist – you hope that people running our country are serving our best interests and if they tell us to have more of something, it’s only because they want to help us.

What is fibre anyway? Like I alluded to earlier, it appears to be something we’re told to have more of, even though we don’t all actually know what it is – or what it does.

The actual definition of dietary fibre is one that is frequently disputed – but there are certain aspects that are common to all definitions:

  • Present in all plants, but in differing amounts
  • Type of carbohydrate
  • Indigestible/resistant to digestion

So what we have are indigestible carbohydrates consumed by humans that are present in all of plant life.

We know what it is – but what are the effects of fibre in our nutrition then? Well most research tells us that fibre can provide us with numerous health benefits, these include:

  • Decreases levels of LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol – potentially reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Regulates the level of sugar in our blood
  • Assists the passage of waste
  • Balances our pH levels – reducing risk of getting colonic cancer

Essentially all the health benefits of dietary fibre relate to our digestive system. High levels of fibre slow down the process and helps our bodies to remove waste effectively.

Well if fibre is all that it is cracked up to be, don’t we all need to be on high fibre diets? Fibre is present in many commonly eaten foods, so you may be already getting a lot of fibre without really knowing it. For example, green vegetables and whole grains possess high levels of fibre, and you should be eating these in relatively large quantities.

Plants are without a doubt the richest sources of fibre that we know of. And here’s a little tip – if it has a thick skin covering a juicy pulp, it’s more often than not going to be a great source of dietary fibre.

Other fibre-rich foods include:

  • Almonds
  • Oats
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Potato skins
  • Avocados
  • Bananas (before they have ripened!)

Unlike a lot of the nutrients we require, fibre isn’t readily available as a supplement. Although there are certain fibre supplements, they are far less common than others due to the difficulties associated with isolating fibre from plant sources.

As mentioned above, the good thing about fibre is that it is present in a lot of foods and in relatively high quantities. And yet we as a nation are lacking in it – then again, we’re told we are lacking in a whole load of nutrients.

So whether it’s a political tool or a genuine concern for our health – this is one time we should listen to the government and make sure we get our fibre!

Ollie Lawrence
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