Simone Gabbay, RNCP
"In our ongoing love affair with refined and packaged foods that have been stripped of fibre, we have sacrificed one of our greatest allies in our quest for health.
Of all the components that make up our food, fibre is the least glamorous. Sometimes termed "roughage," it takes a back seat to vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other phytochemicals. Yet we won't fully benefit from any of these nutrients unless our diet contains adequate amounts of fibre.
Fibre is a carbohydrate found in the cell walls of plant foods. It is indigestible, but it directly supports digestive function by helping to eliminate waste materials from the intestinal tract. When fibre is lacking in the diet, digestive complaints such as chronic constipation and sluggish bowel movements, as well as frequent diarrhea and loose bowel movements, are common.
Optimal fibre intake ranges from 30 to 40 grams per day, but the typical western diet only provides between 10 and 20 grams per day, and sometimes even less! In our ongoing love affair with refined and packaged foods that have been stripped of fibre, we have sacrificed one of our greatest allies in our quest for health.
High-Fibre Foods Packed By Nature
The natural sugars in all plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds are locked in a casing of fibre. Chewing and the digestive process help break down the fibre and release the nutrients, but the fibre itself is not digested it travels along the intestinal tract, sweeping up toxic chemicals and bile acids, increasing bulk and softness of fecal matter, and decreasing transit time of feces. Fibre thus prevents the reabsorption of toxins and acts as a natural intestinal cleanser.
Although fibre has no vitamins or minerals, it does make a nutritional contribution to the body: Fibre serves as a food for bowel flora the friendly bacteria that naturally reside in the intestinal tract encouraging them to flourish and produce certain anti-infectious and anticarcinogenic substances. By helping to keep the intestinal tract clean and the bowel flora healthy, dietary fibre supports a strong immune system.
Fibre Lowers Diabetes Risk
Fibre also helps control blood sugar levels by slowing down the rate of food passage through the intestinal tract, resulting in a more gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream. A study in the April 2002 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that a diet rich in whole grains may lower the risk of type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes in overweight adults. When study subjects consumed a diet rich in whole-grain foods such as oats, brown rice and barley, their insulin sensitivity improved. This means their bodies became more efficient at responding to insulin a mechanism impaired in those with type II diabetes. (Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, facilitates the transport of blood sugar to the cells.)
Fibre Lowers Cholesterol
There are two types of fibre, each performing a specific function in the body. Soluble fibre, which includes pectins and gums, dissolves in fluids and forms a gel-like substance in the intestinal tract, helping to soften stools and facilitate their expulsion. Soluble fibre helps reduce serum cholesterol levels by binding intestinal bile acids that contain fat and cholesterol, ensuring these are removed in the stools instead of being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. This beneficial effect helps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Insoluble fibre, which includes cellulose, hemicellulose and lignins, soaks up water like a sponge and acts as a bulking agent, speeding up the time it takes for fecal waste to move through the intestinal tract. This helps prevent constipation as well as more serious bowel conditions such as diverticulosis, in which small pouches form in the large intestine, trapping fecal matter. Most unrefined plant foods contain a balance of soluble and insoluble fibre, which act together to provide optimal gelling and bulking in the intestinal tract.
Fibre Promotes Weight Loss
If you've ever eaten a slice of white bread, you know that it virtually melts on your tongue, even without chewing. The fibre that naturally surrounds the sugars, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in the whole grain has been stripped away by high-speed, high-heat roller mills a job that should have been reserved for your teeth and the digestive enzymes your body secretes. The nutritious slice of whole-grain bread that you would have slowly chewed and eaten would have made you feel satisfied, but the mushy slice of white bread will not. You'll still be hungry, and your body will be starving for the nutrients that have been removed along with the fibre. Meanwhile, the empty calories and refined starches you've consumed will put you at risk for obesity and blood sugar imbalances.
To prevent unwanted weight gain, or to promote weight loss, it's essential to eat a diet consisting of fibre-rich whole foods that optimally support digestive and metabolic processes in the body. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, and always choose whole-grain products over refined, and brown rice instead of white.
Occasionally it may help to take a natural fibre supplement to ensure regularity. Psyllium hulls or freshly ground flax seeds are highly effective, quickly relieving constipation without the habit-forming properties of pharmaceutical laxatives. Fibre supplements absorb liquids, so take with plenty of water for optimal effectiveness.
Soluble and Insoluble Fibre Content of Major Food Groups
(*1/2 cup, cooked
unless otherwise indicated)
100% bran cereal
Source: Adapted from alive's Encyclopedia of Natural Healing