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fibreFibre

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 dietary fibre.

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 calories.

HIGH-FIBRE FOODS
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 pressure.

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.

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