Dietary fibre: your intestine’s best friend
Fibre is formed of plant substances that are essential for the intestines to function properly. It is not digested or absorbed in the small intestine.
Different types of fibre are classed according to their solubility in water. There are two categories: soluble fibre (pectins, gums and mucilages) and insoluble fibre (cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin).
Soluble fibre can be found in most plants. It form a sort of gel during digestion, which prevents constipation, decreases the absorption of cholesterol and fat and slows down carbohydrate digestion. It also prevents hunger pangs. It can be found in oats (flakes, bran, flour), barley, psyllium, buckwheat, kidney beans, white beans, dried figs, prunes and to a lesser extent, fresh fruit and vegetables: carrots, courgettes, asparagus, sweet potato, strawberries, grapefruit, nectarine, peach and orange.
Insoluble fibre is usually found in the skins and envelope of fruit and vegetables. It is less easily attacked by bacteria and ferments less. It attracts water and can therefore swell. It increases the volume of stools and accelerates digestion by stimulating bowel movements. It is found in wholewheat (wholemeal bread, bran, wheatgerm, wholewheat breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta and bulghur), spelt, kamut or khorrosan, linseed, rhubarb, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pears, dried dates and figs, prunes, almonds, chickpeas, lentils and potato skins.
Recommended daily intake
Recommended daily intake of fibre is 25-30g per day for adults. Fibre should be a part of every meal:
- Breakfast of wholewheat bread or cereal (muesli or oat flakes) and fruit
- Lunch and dinner with a raw vegetable as a starter, vegetables as the main dish, or pasta or whole grain rice
- Desserts and snacks should be fruit
Fibre needs water. Without water, fibre is ineffective. It is therefore recommended to drink 1–1.5 litres a day.
Changing your diet from low-fibre to high-fibre overnight is not a good idea. Your body needs time to adapt.
Too much fibre can cause intestinal discomfort. Gradually increase the amount of fibre in your diet.