Public health guidelines from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise people to eat between 20 and 30 grams of fibre a day, but most adults don't even eat half that much. It is actually because human body can't digest fibre but it plays such an important part in digestion. Soluble fibres, like those found in cucumbers, beans, and nuts, dissolve into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down one's digestion. This helps to feel full longer and is one reason why fibre may help with weight control. Insoluble fibre, found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans and carrots, does not dissolve at all and helps add bulk to stool. Many whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, naturally contain both soluble and insoluble fibre.
Women aged 18 to 50 need at least 25 grams of fibre per day, women over 50 a little less, at least 21 grams per day. There are no dietary intake recommendations for infants (1 year of age), because it is assumed that most of the nutrients will be provided by milk for the first 6 months of life, and there are no data on fibre intake for infants until after one year of age.
Many of us associate fibre with digestive health and bodily functions we'd rather not think about. Unfortunately, most of us aren't eating nearly enough in our diets. Dietary fibre normalises bowel movements by bulking up stools and making them easier to pass. This can help relieve and prevent both constipation and diarrhoea. Eating plenty of fibre can also reduce risk for inflammation of the intestine, haemorrhoids, gallstones, kidney stones, and provide some relief for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Eating food high in fibre can improve cholesterol levels by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol; it can also reduce a group of risk factors linked to coronary heart disease and stroke. Fibre helps to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and improve levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Particularly insoluble fibre from cereals can lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and can slow absorption of sugar and improve one's blood sugar levels. High-fibre foods are also linked to a lower risk for other common digestive system cancers, including stomach, mouth, and pharynx. When yeast and fungus are excreted through the skin, they can trigger outbreaks or acne. Eating fibre, especially psyllium husks (a type of plant seed), can flush toxins out of body, improving health and appearance of good skin. Another potential mechanism involves fibre's ability to change the makeup of the gut flora. These changes could protect the body from infections and release lung-protective agents, including neutrophils.
Many fast-food meals are packed with calories, sodium, and unhealthy fat with little or no dietary fibre. Even a seemingly healthy salad from a fast- food restaurant is often light on fibre-simple lettuce greens provide only about 0.5 grams of fibre per cup. Other tips for getting more fibre from meals at fast-food restaurants: choose a veggie burger, nuts or a salad or yoghurts over fries or potato chips. Finish a fast-food meal with a fruit cup, fruit and yogurt, or a piece of fresh fruit.
Good sources of fibre include whole grains, wheat cereals, barley, flaxseed, oatmeal, beans, and nuts, vegetables such as carrots, and tomatoes, and fruits such as apples, citrus fruits, and pears.
There is a lot of easy and tasty ways to make fibre a big part of every day and this will quickly reap health benefits. It's a simple way to feel full, be fit and get body in a healthy shape. Try these tips to get more fibre everyday - have oatmeal or whole grain cereal for breakfast. Top with some fresh fruits, eat fruits and veggies raw and with skins for more fibre; snack on fruits dried or fresh is fine, munch on popcorn when you need a snack, switch to brown rice from white rice, replace white pasta with whole wheat pasta in favourite dish and add vegetable to pasta and other dishes.
The writer is a nutritionist.