Fibre

Fibre or 'roughage' is so important to good health that it deserves to be thought of as a nutrient. It constitutes the parts of plants (cellulose and starches) that are indigestable by humans, instead it acts as a bulking agent in the intestines. Fibre increases the frequency of bowel movements and decreases the transit time of food material passing through the intestines, keeping the bowel 'fit' as it encourages the natural peristaltic action of squeezing and massaging food along. It also keeps the bowel clean and its regular presence promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria whilst decreasing the growth of unwanted bacteria. Fibre also reduces cholesterol build up as it inhibits its absorption and absorbs water making the stool softer and easier to pass. A type of fibre called pectin (present in many fruits especially apples) coats the intestinal walls and slows the absorption of sugars. This results in a steady influx of sugar into the blood rather than a rapid one – for this reason fibre is very helpful in controlling the symptoms of insulin dependant diabetes. A diet low in natural fibre offers the bowel musculature very little bulk on which to work and therefore reduces natural peristaltic action eventually making the bowel lazy. This means waste passes more slowly and stagnates in the bowel. The stagnating faecal matter may hang around for unhealthy amounts of time during which time toxins in the faeces are reabsorbed into the blood predisposing the body to a wide range of disease states. Problems that are linked to low fibre diets include diverticulosis, spastic colon, gallstones, obesity, ischaemic heart disease and high cholesterol, constipation and diarrhoea, diabetes, varicose veins, hiatus hernia, haemorrhoids, colorectal cancer and appendicitis. If the diet is generally low in fibre, increase your intake gradually over a period of weeks and drink plenty of water to assist its actions. The r.d.a. for fibre is 30g or 1oz.

SOURCES OF FIBRE

Fibre is found in virtually all plant foods, among the highest being:

WHOLEGRAINS such as brown rice, oats, rye, corn, wheat etc. contain much fibre in their outer coatings. Milled and refined grains do not contain nearly as much once their outer coatings have been removed.

PULSES AND LEGUMES like peas, beans, lentils for example all contain good amounts of fibre.

SEEDS AND NUTS are also good sources of fibre, especially flax and hempseeds.

FRESH FRUIT AND VEGETABLES all contain fibre to varying degrees particularly when raw. Cooking can destroy it so cook very lightly if at all and be sure to eat the skins (where practical) as much fibre is contained there.

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