The purpose of fibre in the diet

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The purpose of fibre in the diet
Porridge can help lower your cholesterol levels and keep blood sugar steady. (Oatmeal with blackberries. Bowlful of cereal. image by Monika 3 Steps Ahead from Fotolia.com)

You have most likely heard that fibre is an essential component of a healthy, balanced diet. While you may just take your nutritionist’s or GP’s word for it, it is advantageous to understand the purpose of fibre in the diet. Increasing your fibre intake can benefit you in many ways.

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Bowel health

Often, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term "fibre" is the health of your bowels. Fibre is well-known for keeping your bowels regular by helping move your stool through them. The presence of fibre in your intestinal tract triggers water to travel into your intestines. This water softens your stool and increases the bulk of the stool, which makes it easier to pass, preventing constipation.

Soft stools also require less straining to pass. When you reduce the amount of straining needed to have a bowel movement, you also reduce the amount of pressure in your colon. This can help reduce your risk of developing haemorrhoids (piles) and may also prevent the development of abnormal pouches in your digestive tract, a condition called diverticulosis.

Weight management

Dietary fibre is often used as a tool to help with weight loss or management of a healthy weight. Most foods that contain fibre fill you up quickly without providing a lot of calories or fat. Fibre also slows down the rate at which food moves from your stomach to your small intestine. When food remains in your stomach longer, it increases the time that you feel full. This leads to a decreased chance of over-eating and can reduce overall calorie intake, which helps you lose or maintain your weight.

Chronic disease

Fibre also helps reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases. In addition to slowing down stomach emptying time, fibre also slows down the absorption rate of sugar. When it takes longer for the sugar from your diet to reach your blood, it helps prevent rapid increases in blood sugar and insulin levels, which are associated with Type 2 diabetes.

Fibre also binds to bile acids in your intestine, prompting you to remove them in your stool. This triggers your liver to use the cholesterol in your blood to produce more bile acids, which can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Fibre recommendations

The amount of fibre you need in your diet depends on your age and gender. If you are a woman aged 50 or younger, you should consume 25 g of fibre per day. If you are a woman older than 50, your daily fibre needs decrease to 21 g. If you are a man aged 50 or younger, you should consume 38 g of fibre per day. If you are a man older than 50, you need 30 g of fibre. The best sources of fibre include beans, oats, whole grain breads, bran cereals, fruits and various vegetables.

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