In my latest articles on cancer and diabetes I touched upon the benefits of fibre. In these articles I mentioned that fibre could help control blood sugar levels in diabetics and also help prevent certain types of cancer. However, I haven’t really done any articles which elaborate and go into greater detail concerning fibre so I thought now would be a great opportunity to do so. My next few articles will be concentrating on fibre and I will begin with this article; ‘What is Fibre?’
I hear fibre mentioned a lot and see it on most food’s nutritional value labels. However, all I really knew about fibre before writing this article is that it helped clear out the digestive system. Whilst this is true, there is a lot more to fibre than this.
Fibre comes from the cell walls of plants and cannot be absorbed by the body. It only comes from plant based foods and cannot be sourced from meat, fish or dairy products. Fibre contains no calories, no vitamins and is not technically a nutrient (although it is often referred to as a carbohydrate). It simply passes through the digestive system and comes out in your stools. There are two main types of fibre; Insoluble and Soluble.
1) INSOLUBLE FIBRE:- Insoluble fibre passes through the body relatively unchanged until it reaches the intestine. Upon reaching the intestine it absorbs water and expands in the digestive tract. This combination of bulk and liquid helps waste materials move through the digestive tract more quickly. In doing this, insoluble fibre helps promote regular bowel movements and reduces constipation. It has also been suggested that insoluble fibre can reduce bowel disease and other related conditions because toxins are not left to build up in the digestive tract for long periods.
Soluble fibre can be found largely in grains and wholewheat products. The list below contains some of the most popular sources:
– Bran Flakes (10g of fibre per 100g)
– Brown Rice (1.8g of fibre per 100g)
– Whole Grain Bread (6.3g of fibre per 100g)
– Whole Grain Spaghetti (8.4g of fibre per 100g)
2) SOLUBLE FIBRE:- Soluble fibre also passes through the body relatively unchanged until it reaches the intestine. Upon reaching the intestine it dissolves in water creating a thick gel like substance. This gel then holds food in the digestive tract for longer so all the nutrients can be absorbed from the food before it is excreted. In doing this, soluble fibre also helps moderate blood sugar levels because food is digested, converted into blood sugar and released more slowly. It has also been suggested that soluble fibre can reduce cholesterol levels because it binds with the cholesterol in foods and is then later excreted (complete with the attached cholesterol).
Soluble fibre can be found in all fruits and vegetables. However, below I have listed some particularly rich sources:
– Apples (1.8g of fibre per 100g)
– Banana (1.1g of fibre per 100g)
– Orange (1.7g of fibre per 100g)
– Mushrooms (1.5g of fibre per 100g)
– Onions (1.4g of fibre per 100g)
– Peas (3.4g of fibre per 100g)
So there you have it. Most people (myself included before researching this article) associate the terms ‘fibre’ or ‘dietary fibre’ with cleansing of the bowels and digestive system i.e. insoluble fibre. However, soluble fibre is just as important and helps your body in different ways.
But which type is best for you? Well unfortunately the verdict on this topic is a little less clear. The British Nutrition Foundation recommend that you consume 18g of fibre per day but they do not split this down to the insoluble and soluble types. Food companies seem to have jumped on the insoluble fibre bandwagon with whole grain breads and whole grain cereals constantly claiming to offer “50% of your dietary fibre in one serving”. This means that of the two there is a possibility that soluble fibre may get rejected because people see the heavily marketed insoluble fibre as the healthiest option. Furthermore, this article from Healthier Life suggests that whilst both types of fibre are healthy, soluble fibre could be the healthier of the two.
So what’s my opinion? Both types of fibre seem to have their benefits and both should have a place in our diets. With the way food is currently advertised most people are going to be pushed towards insoluble fibre. Therefore, it is important to step back and have a quick think about where your dietary fibre is coming from. If the majority is coming from bread, cereal, pasta and rice then try and substitute in some fruits and vegetables to bump up your soluble fibre intake. By making sure your diet has a good mixture of whole grains, fruits and vegetables you should get a good balance between both soluble and insoluble fibre.
I hope you enjoyed this article. In my next article I will be discussing the benefits of fibre in greater detail. In the meantime I would like to hear from you. Do you think you are getting enough fibre in your diet? Are you getting the right balance between insoluble and soluble? I look forward to hearing from you.
Dietary Reference Values (British Nutrition Foundation)
Fibre Information (BUPA)
Fibre Information (Health Castle)
Fibre Information (Help with Cooking)
Fibre Information (Net Doctor)
Fibre Information (The Healthier Life)
Fibre Information (Wikipedia)
Weight Loss Resources