Dietary Fibre An Important Part Of Healthy Life

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

Dietary fibres are complex carbohydrates, roughage found mostly in plants and vegetables and grains. Since they are rough humans' gut enzymes cannot breakdown and digest them. Some metabolism of the fibre does occur in the gut due to bacterial activity. Fibre cannot be converted to glucose and it contributes no calories to our diets. Most dietary fibre passes through the intestinal tract undigested .Dietary fibre adds bulk to your meal, hence you feel full after a meal which contains fibre.

There are two types of fibre- soluble and insoluble depending on whether they are soluble in water. The human gut cannot digest both varieties.

They both are found in vegetables like beans, wholegrain cereals, fruits, oats, pulses and nuts. Sri Lankans gets a lot of fibre in their lentil curry with rice and bread. Insoluble fibres include: cellulose, Lignin, Hemicellulose, Pectin, Beta-glucans and Arabinose.

Soluble fibre attracts water and turns to gel during digestion.
Dietary fibres have many health benefits, one of which is weight control. The lack of dietary fibre in the Western diets is now linked to a higher risk of digestive complaints like constipation, diverticulitis and even cancer, also, raised levels of cholesterol. Dietary fibre forms a part of treatment for diverticular disease, diabetes and heart disease. Dietary fibre in carbohydrates helps to slow digestion, thus reducing their glycaemic index and their effects on blood sugar.

Most of the foods you purchase from supermarkets are processed and the fibre content is gradually removed. Good examples are rice, wheat and oats. White flour is stripped of the natural fibre containing shell or chafe, bleached and super-refined, in order to make lighter breads with a longer shelf-life. There are different types of fibre and, with the exception of chitosan, a type of fibre synthesised from shrimps and crab shells, all dietary fibre comes from plants and whole grain. There is no fibre in animal meat, fish, poultry, milk products and eggs.

Insoluble dietary fibre is a natural laxative and includes cellulose and lignin found in wholegrain (wheatbran). Hemicellulose is partly soluble in water is also found in whole grains, wheat bran, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.

Other benefits of high dietary fibre are:
Normalizes bowel movements, helps maintain bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels, help control blood sugar levels, aids in achieving healthy weight, and prevention of colo-rectal cancer. Adults below 50 need 38grams for men daily and women 25 grams. People over 50 years need 30 grams for men and 21 grams for women.

Eating a large amount of fibre in a short period of time can cause intestinal gas (flatulence) and cramps. Eat banana flowers with the outer petals that hangs from the end of the main stem referred to as the pod. (Kehelmuwa) finely cut and tempered (Mallung) or eat Kohila root well cooked, you will know what I mean. Kohila roots are cooked into a curry form and given for haemorrhoid treatment by the auyvedic physicians. Bloating and cramps usually goes away once the natural bacteria in the digestive system get used to the increase in fiber in the diet. Adding fiber gradually to the diet, instead of all at one time, can help reduce gas or diarrhoea.

Too much fiber may interfere with the absorption of minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. However, this effect usually does not cause too much concern because high-fiber foods are typically rich in minerals.

Avoid peeling of fruits and vegetables to maximise the amount of fibre absorption. Eating fibre-containing food is beneficial whether it is cooked or raw. Eat oranges rather than squeezing and drinking the juice.

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