Everyone knows about the benefits of eating wholesome foods like fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains. They are power-packed with vitamins and minerals, and of course fibre which is important for a healthier diet.
That’s all very well, and we know that a body needs vitamins and minerals for a balanced diet. But apart from helping regular bowel movements, is fibre really that important? What exactly is fibre, and why does eating more of it benefit our health?
Basically, dietary fibre comes from plants and is generally divided into two groups — soluble and insoluble fibre.
Soluble fibre can absorb water and turns into a gel-like substance that swells as it passes through the digestive system. Soluble fibre sources include fruits such as oranges and apples; root vegetables like carrots and potatoes; legumes like peas and beans; oats and barley.
Insoluble fibre does not absorb water and passes through our digestive system more or less in its original form. Brown rice, wholemeal bread, skins of fruit, nuts and seeds and cereals are great sources of insoluble fibre.
Health Benefits of Fibre
Both soluble and insoluble fibre work to bring a host of good things to your body:
1. Keeps Toilet Woes at Bay
Fibre is the magic formula for clockwork regular bowel movements. One in four Singaporeans suffer from chronic constipation so fibre is a definite must for our local diets. Insoluble fibre does not absorb water, but increases stool size and bulk and promotes regular bowel movement. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, soaks up water as it passes through your system, which helps soften the texture of your stools so that it is passed out more easily, this is helpful when you have constipation.
A note of caution before you rush out to the supermarket to buy that packet of rolled oats. If you have always been a processed and refined foods junkie, chowing down too much fibre too quickly may aggravate the digestive tract, resulting in gas, bloating, or constipation. Introduce fibre gradually to prevent all these unpleasant and potentially embarrassing things from happening and to ensure optimal bowel benefits.
2. Helps Manage Weight Gain
Did you know that fibre can also help you if you’re managing your weight? Dietary fibre takes longer to chew, slowing down your food intake. Both soluble and insoluble fibre can help you maintain a healthier weight as the bulk from fibre keeps you feeling fuller longer and prevents overeating.
3. Helps Control Blood Sugar Level
Fibre is good news for those managing their diabetes too! Having fibre in your meals helps prevent blood sugar levels from spiking. Soluble fibre in foods slows down the release of sugars into the bloodstream resulting in a more constant blood sugar level. Consuming the recommended amounts of fibre can help manage blood sugar levels, and keep your condition under control.
4. Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Did you know that cholesterol is needed to make bile salts? When you ingest fibre, it interferes with the reabsorption of bile in the intestines and is excreted. The body needs to replace the lost bile and so cholesterol is pulled out of our blood to make bile salts. Fibre thus plays an important role in reducing cholesterol levels and the dreaded risk of heart disease.
Recommended Fibre Intake
Fibre is obviously great for health, but many mums like Madam Tan moan over the struggles to get their families to consume more fibre. “My son says all those wholemeal diets look so boring and unappetising. He says that he might as well become his pet hamster and munch on seeds and nuts all day!”
Take heart, there are simple ways to add more fibre to your diet. In Singapore, the recommended fibre intake is 20g for women and 26g for men. This equates to two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables per day. Don’t forget that wholegrains can also help to meet your daily dietary fibre needs, so include wholegrains in your diet everyday.
This is what one serving of fruit, vegetables or wholegrains looks like:
One Serving of Fruit:
- 1 small apple, orange, pear or mango
- 1 wedge of papaya, pineapple or watermelon
- 10 grapes or longans
- 1 medium banana
- ¼ cup dried fruit
- 1 cup pure fruit juice
One Serving of Vegetables
- ¼ plate cooked vegetables
- 100g raw non-leafy vegetables
- ¾ mug cooked vegetables
One Serving of Wholegrains
- ½ bowl of brown rice
- ½ bowl of brown rice beehoon or noodles
- 2 slices of wholemeal bread
- ½ bowl of whole wheat spaghetti
- ⅔ bowl (50g) of uncooked oats
- 2 chapatis
- 4 whole-wheat biscuits
For fussy foodies like Madam Tan’s son, replacing refined foods with wholegrain, unprocessed options and adding a few more portions of fruit and vegetables may be a start. Here are some ideas:
- Go for brown, not white: Replace white rice with brown rice. If that is too sudden a change for you or your family, go half and half or alternate white with brown rice for each meal.
- Go with wholegrains: Choose wholegrain bread, cereals and pasta in place of the processed, refined versions.
- Bake healthier: If you’re channelling your inner domestic goddess and are planning on doing some baking, replace white flour (or at least a portion of it) with whole wheat flour. Add a dash of nuts or seeds for more fibre, crunch and flavour.
- Find fibre in hawker fare: Look for fibre-rich choices at your neighbourhood hawker centre. You’d be surprised that delicious popiah, rojak, tauhu goreng, zi char and nasi padang offer great sources of fibre. Ask for more vegetables and stay away from the grease to enjoy a hawker meal.
- Mix and match your meat with fruit and veggies: If you are a meat-lover, you can add fibre to your diet by throwing in some fruit or veggies. Cook your stir-fries with cucumbers, capsicums and pineapples. Enjoy roasted chicken with roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots. Add vegetables to your soups, stews, and curries.
- Stay whole and wholesome: Choose whole fruits and vegetables, with skins or peels intact when possible, as most of the fibre and vitamins are located there.
- Leg up with legumes: Replace meat with beans, lentils or other legumes in meals.
So what are you waiting for? Get fit, fab and regular with more fibre in your diet today!