High-fibre foods speed up the elimination of waste and toxins and help
the body to function properly. Learn to recognize them and get into the
habit of eating them on a regular basis.
Fibre, or roughage as it used to be known, has become one of the great
nutritional talking points of our times. Almost everyone is now aware that
it is important in a healthy diet (more and more people eat wholemeal
bread!) and it is the basis of one of the most successful slimming diets of
the last decade - the F-plan. However, many people don't understand its
exact role in nutrition or quite why it is so important to eat plenty of
fibre on a regular basis.
WHAT IS FIBRE?
Fibre is cellulose, a food substance indigestible by humans which occurs
naturally in varying degrees in many plant-based foods; it is the basic
component of plant cell walls. It is not nutritious in itself, containing no
proteins, vitamins or minerals. Indeed, it is not actually broken down in
the body but passes straight through the intestinal tract.
Its main importance lies in its ability to absorb liquid, rather like a
sponge, and become bulky as it moves through the intestinal tract. This
helps the efficiency of the bowels, which produce large, soft stools that
are easy to pass.
Fibre also speeds up the passage of waste products through the bowel and
helps remove toxic matter. High-fibre foods make the journey through the
body in less than 24 hours, while foods which are low in fibre can take up
to three or four days to pass through the body and can often result in
constipation, which has been linked with diverticular disease and cancer of
the colon. Some doctors believe that many so-called 'affluent' diseases,
such as heart disease, hiatus hernia and obesity, are related to lack of
Fibre also seems to affect blood sugar levels and has been known to help
some diabetics reduce their intake of insulin.
CHEWY AND FILLING
High-fibre foods are metabolized more slowly than refined carbohydrates,
such as white bread, biscuits and cake, and are thus a natural regulator of
the system, releasing energy-giving glucose into the bloodstream at a
slower, steadier rate. Unlike many low-fibre convenience foods - such as
soft creamy desserts and canned or processed goods - which are highly
refined and quick and easy to eat, high-fibre foods tend to be chewy and
filling, satisfying our appetites without filling us up with unwanted
Cereal foods have the highest fibre but only if they are whole and
unrefined. These include whole wheat, bulgar wheat, brown rice, bran, barley
and oats and products made from them such as wholemeal bread and pasta, as
well as many breakfast cereals.
Dried beans and pulses, which include red kidney, aduki, haricot and
butter beans as well as peas and different types of lentils, are also high
in fibre. These do not absorb liquids as much as cereals do; they work in
the digestive tract in a different way. They form a glue-like substance
which seems to limit the amount of fat and sugar absorbed from food eaten.
They also help to lower blood cholesterol levels and possibly blood
Fibre occurs naturally in nuts and in most fruits and vegetables and
these work in the intestines in much the same way as pulses. Peas, spinach
and sweetcorn have surprisingly high. levels of fibre, while carrots,
cabbage and broccoli are also rich sources.
High-fibre fruits include most dried fruits as well as blackberries,
raspberries and strawberries. Bananas, apples and oranges also have
significant amounts of fibre.