Did you know that dietary fibre can be used to treat various conditions, from constipation to diarrhoea, diabetes and high cholesterol?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of fibre. One comes from the thick cell wall of plants, and is tough and fibrous. It’s found in the stalks, skins and leaves of fruit and vegetables as well as the outer coating of grains.
The other kind is softer, and is found inside fruit and vegetables and some grains like oats.
The first type is known as ‘insoluble’ fibre and is the roughage that most of us know about. Its indigestible nature means that it moves through your intestines pretty much unchanged, giving bulk to the contents of your gut.
By softening the stool, it helps to speed up ‘transit time’ and can therefore help if you’re constipated. Whole grains are rich in this sort of fibre, but since the goodness is found in the outer layers of the grains, white rice and foodstuffs made from white flour
don’t count (eight slices of white bread contain the same amount of fibre as one slice of wholemeal bread).
The second type is called ‘soluble’ fibre and comes in quite a few forms. For example the pectin in apples and pears is useful in lowering cholesterol; lignans in linseeds help to protect against breast cancer, while the beta glucans in oats can help control blood
sugar levels in diabetics.
Soluble fibre can also aid weight loss as it forms a thick gel after you eat it (think of the gooeyness when you cook okra) thereby slowing down the rate at which food leaves your stomach (this also helps you to feel full).
This is how the beta glucans in oats slows the speed at which blood sugar rises, and why it is so useful for diabetes. Beta glucans also acts as a sponge for cholesterol and any toxins, helping to transport them all out of the body via the stool.
Other rich sources of soluble fibre include barley, beans, peas, fruit (but not juice), vegetables and linseeds.
Another great thing about soluble fibre is that, unlike the insoluble kind, it doesn’t irritate the delicate lining of the gut wall, making it a viable option for those suffering from inflammatory bowel disorders like colitis.
Some people find that increasing their intake of fibre-rich foods, especially beans, can make them feel bloated. This isn’t unusual. The gas is simply a by-product of the work that the bacteria in your gut are doing.
With time, the gut adapts and gas production (and thus, any jokes) should subside.