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Carbohydrates usually get a very bad reputation for being the cause of excessive weight gain, postprandial (after eating) rise in blood glucose, etc. But if there’s one type of carbohydrate that goes against this grain—that is, it doesn’t break down into sugar molecules—it’s dietary fibre. Fibre is a kind of carbohydrate that passes through the body undigested, without breaking down into sugar, and thereby regulates some major functions of the body.

Fibre-rich foods are satiating like all carbohydrates, so they add bulk to the diet and quench hunger. Since they pass through the digestive system without breaking down, this also adds bulk to stool, making constipation and other digestive issues unlikely.

Fibre foods also help with weight loss. Eating enough fibre in your diet can also help you reduce the risks of a number of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, etc., and reduce your chances of getting colorectal cancer.

(Read more: 15 tried-and-tested tips to lose weight)

Fibre comes in two types, and both are equally beneficial for health. Soluble fibres dissolve in water and can help lower both blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Insoluble fibres do not dissolve in water and help food move through your digestive system, thereby promoting bowel regulation. Unless you have a condition that requires you to limit fibre intake—like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory disease or you have undergone surgery recently—a fibre-rich diet is considered to be necessary for good health.

Both children and adults are required to consume more than 30 grams of fibre every day from food. Supplements for fibre are easily available, but these are usually recommended to those who have additional requirements due to digestive issues. Ideally, you should be including enough vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts and seeds in your diet to meet this daily requirement. The following are some of the food sources that can add fibre to your diet:

  1. Food sources of fiber
  2. Who should avoid fiber-rich foods
  3. Takeaways

Despite all the benefits of fibre consumption, most people fail to get enough roughage through their diets. While you are required to take more than 30 grams of fibre-rich foods every day, most people end up taking only about half that amount. This causes several health issues, with constipation and other digestion-related problems being on top of the list. 

In the long term, not getting enough fibre is also likely to cause a nutritional deficiency, since all fibre-rich foods are also sources of vitamins, minerals and essential bioactive compounds. The following are the main sources of fibre you need to include in your daily diet to get the recommended amount of this nutrient:

  1. Fruits are a rich source of fiber
  2. Vegetables are a rich source of fiber
  3. Legumes and lentils are a rich source of fiber
  4. Nuts and seeds are a rich source of fiber

Fruits are a rich source of fiber

All fruits are a great source of fibre, but the ones you can consume with the skin intact are even better. This is because the skin has additional fibre and nutrients like pectin, which also have enhanced susceptibility to fermentation. These nutrients not only help these fruits provide fibre to your body but also further improve your gut health. Clearly, peeling fruits like apples and pears before eating them is counterproductive and should be avoided if you want to increase your fibre intake. 

Apples, pears, strawberries, avocados, raspberries, bananas, figs, grapefruit, guavas, kiwis, mangoes, oranges, papayas, blueberries, blackberries, etc., are all great sources of fibre. Just ensure that you include fruits of different colours in your daily diet.

Vegetables are a rich source of fiber

Vegetables, even starchy ones like potatoes, are very rich in fibre. At least five portions of fruits and vegetables are recommended daily for proper intake of fibre. The only issue is that not all vegetables can be eaten raw, and the nature of the fibre you get from vegetable may change once they are cooked. 

Research reveals that while all vegetables have both soluble and insoluble dietary fibre, when you cook the veggies, the former increase in quantity and the latter decrease. In any case, since both soluble and insoluble fibres are good for health, you should consume both raw and cooked vegetables like carrots, beetroot, broccoli, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, gourds, tomatoes, capsicum, etc.

Legumes and lentils are a rich source of fiber

Chickpeas, cowpeas, kidney beans, mung beans, soybeans, pigeon peas, green peas, groundnuts, edamame, lima beans, black beans, split peas and lentils of all types are exceptionally rich in dietary fibres and minerals. These plant-based foods are anyways part of the Indian diet.

However, as in the case of vegetables, the fibre content of legumes and lentils change when they go through the cooking process. The fibre content also depends on whether or not you’re consuming the legumes and beans with their skin on. The skin of legumes and lentils, quite like those of fruits and vegetables, contains large amounts of fibre as well.

Nuts and seeds are a rich source of fiber

All types of nuts and seeds are rich in dietary fibre, apart from also being packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Nuts like almonds, walnuts, fox nuts, cashew nuts, pistachios, chia seeds, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, etc., are all rich sources of dietary fibre and should be a part of your diet.

It’s important to remember, though, that nuts and seeds generate a lot of heat, so too many of them during summer or monsoon can lead to digestive problems like diarrhoea. You should also avoid the consumption of nuts if you have a nut allergy.

Dietary fibre is an essential nutrient, and foods that are rich in it should definitely be a part of your diet. However, under certain circumstances, the consumption of fibre is not recommended by doctors. You might be told to hold off on the fibre if you have any of the following conditions:

The goal of diet if you have any of these issues is to give your bowels some rest, which a fibre-rich diet will never do. According to a 2015 study published in Advances in Nutrition, a low-fibre diet with just 10 grams of fibre per day is recommended to people with these conditions. It’s important to remember that a low-fibre diet is usually low on essential nutrients, and should be undertaken only under the guidance of a doctor.

Including fibre rich foods in your diet is, therefore, not only vital, but also very easy given that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and lentils, and nuts and seeds are all easily available. Some other foods, like dark chocolate, also have substantial amounts of dietary fibre. However, if you have an inflammatory bowel disease, obstructions or bowel surgery, a low-fibre diet may be recommended to you.

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References

  1. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. US National Library of Medicine. Bethesda. Maryland. USA; Dietary Fiber
  2. Dhingra, Devinder. et al. Dietary fibre in foods: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2012 Jun; 49(3): 255–266. PMID: 23729846
  3. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Fiber.
  4. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; How to get more fibre into your diet
  5. Food & Drug Administration [Internet] United States Department of Health and Human Services. Maryland. USA; Questions and Answers on Dietary Fiber
  6. Lattimer, James M and Haub, Mark D. Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health. Nutrients. 2010 Dec; 2(12): 1266–1289. PMID: 22254008
  7. Kaczmarczyk, Melissa M. et al. The health benefits of dietary fiber: beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism. 2012 Aug; 61(8): 1058–1066. PMID: 22401879
  8. Mackoviak, Kalina. et al. Dietary fibre as an important constituent of the diet. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online) . 2016 Feb 25;70:104-9. PMID: 26943307
  9. Dreher, Mark L. Whole Fruits and Fruit Fiber Emerging Health Effects. Nutrients. 2018 Dec; 10(12): 1833. PMID: 30487459
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