Fibre Factor

If weight reduction is the goal, one of the easy and sustainable ways to augment any other measures that one might be adopting to knock off those spare tyres is by slightly increasing the proportion of dietary fibre in daily food intake.

It’s useful to be aware of what dietary fibre constitutes and to understand the logic behind the link between fibre and weight loss, in order to maximise the benefits and eliminate any potential ill-effects.

What Fibre?

Popularly known as roughage, dietary fibre refers to that component of foods (mainly of plant origin) that cannot ordinarily be digested and absorbed by the human digestive system, and hence passes relatively intact through the digestive tract up until it is eliminated. Fibre is often classified as either insoluble or soluble. Insoluble fibre is mainly cellulose, a substance that is the major structural material in plant cell walls. Soluble fibre is fibre that dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance; while soluble fibre remains undigested in the stomach and small intestine, it is partially or completely fermented in the large intestine by probiotic bacteria, producing short-chain fatty acids and gases (that’s the origin of the flatulence after gorging yourself on boiled chana!).

The typical Indian diet rarely suffers from a severe lack of fibre, due to the fact that dal (lentils) in one form or another makes a regular appearance at most Indian meals – and dal is a great source of fibre. When accompanied by chapatis (a type of roti, Indian bread), usually made from whole-wheat flour, the fibre factor is further enhanced. Unfortunately, so much of refined food has crept into even Indian diets, that the fibre factor has taken a bit of a beating, particularly among the upper class urban population.

Where Fibre?

In addition to dals and whole-wheat breads, other foods with good fibre content include:

Wheat bran • Oatmeal • Oat bran • Whole-grain cereals  • Legumes (peas and beans) • Nuts • Carrots • Cauliflower • Broccoli and other vegetables • Bananas • Pears • Citrus fruits • Apples

Several foods contain a combination of insoluble and soluble fibre (often referred to as viscous fibre and fermentable fibre respectively, nowadays). There is some research that shows that cooking reduces the proportion of insoluble fibre content but most often results in a corresponding increase in soluble fibre in the cooked food.

As always, the credo is to exercise moderation and not go overboard with a sudden drastic increase in dietary fibre. In fact, with fibre especially, a gradual increase in intake (if required) is recommended, else one has to suffer with gastrointestinal discomfort, a feeling of bloating, and farting all over the place.

Why fibre?

So just what are the benefits of dietary fibre? The general health benefits are several, and the fibre factor can also play a useful role in weight reduction or control:

  • Insoluble fibre absorbs water as it passes through the intestines and helps to increase the bulk and softness of stools, making elimination easier and regular.
  • Soluble fibre regulates blood sugar by slowing the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream; insoluble fibre helps increase insulin sensitivity. Overall this results in a reducing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • The short-chain fatty acids produced by fermentation of soluble fibre help in lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by reducing its reabsorption into the bloodstream and also suppressing liver synthesis of cholesterol.
  • For weight reduction, high-fibre foods are great because they make you feel full for a longer period, as they tend to swell up due to the absorption of water and stay in the stomach for longer, thus reducing hunger pangs between meals. High-fibre foods also contain fewer calories than non-fibre foods of the same volume – a gram of fibre provides a little more than half the calories of a gram of digestible carbohydrate (0-3 calories instead of the usual 4). So, calorie counts can be kept in check and you still feel as if you are eating a lot. Sugar cravings also reduce, because of the glucose regulation mentioned above.

How Fibre?

I have already begun gradually increasing the level of fibre in my diet in ways that will most probably be sustainable even after the duration of 100 for 100. Here’s how:

  • Since dals and chapatis are not a staple component of our diet at home, I am attempting to get this changed and include these foods at least thrice a week. [However, I have to limit peas, beans and dals because of gout].
  • Partially replacing the white bread and white rice that is a regular in our diet at home with brown bread at least a couple of days of the week.
  • One or two bananas every day.
  • Oatmeal porridge as a mid-morning snack twice or thrice a weak.
  • Whole-grain cereal for breakfast or mid-morning snack twice or thrice a week.
  • A small bowl of fruit salad — apples, pears and chikoos (with skins but without any other additives) — to replace the evening snack of crisps and other fried snacks, twice or thrice a week. [Tough one for me!]
  • A small bowl of low-fat or probiotic yoghurt liberally sprinkled with wheat germ/bran twice or thrice a week.

- Val Souza

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