Adequate amounts of dietary fibre intake can promote good health. The Singapore Health Promotion Board recommends a daily dietary fibre intake of 20g for women and 26g for men. According to the National Nutrition survey conducted in 2004, 84 per cent of adult Singaporeans met or exceeded 70 per cent of the recommended dietary fibre intake.
Dietary fibres are parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble fibre. “Both types of fibre are important for optimal health.” says Ms Chong Ai Heong, Dietitian from the Department of Dietetics at Singapore General Hospital.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water to become gummy or viscous, promotes the excretion of fatty substances such as cholesterol and helps to regulate the body’s use of sugars.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water, but adds bulk and softness to stools. Thus, insoluble fibre promotes bowel regularity.
Benefits of dietary fibre
Here is what an adequate fibre diet could do for you:
Promotes a healthier bowel function
Dietary fibre increases the weight of stools and softens it. The stooI passes through the intestinal tract easily, thus reduces the need for strained bowel movements. This helps to maintain bowel health and to avoid constipation. In addition, insoluble fibre decreases the transit time of food waste through the intestinal tract. This reduces the period of time when potentially harmful substances in food waste can come in contact with the intestinal wall.
Helps to control blood sugar level
Soluble fibre slows down the release of sugars from digested food into the bloodstream, thus preventing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. This can help people with type 2 diabetes improve their blood sugar levels.
Lowers cholesterol levels
Soluble fibre may help to lower total cholesterol levels, mainly by lowering the LDL-cholesterol or ‘bad’ cholesterol. Fibre appears to help bile acids which are made of cholesterol to pass through the intestine as waste. Thus, the body absorbs less dietary cholesterol.
Helps in weight management
High fibre foods generally requires a longer time for you to chew. This slows you down and may make you eat less. Besides, with the added bulk, they help you feel full for a longer period.
Eat a variety of high-fibre foods. If your diet is typically low in dietary fibre, increase your fibre intake gradually. Sudden `bulking up’ may cause bloating and flatulence, warns Ms Chong.
Best dietary sources of fibre
Foods high in soluble fibre:
- Oats, barley, oat bran, psyllium husk
- Legumes – peas, beans, lentils
- Fruits such as apple, orange and pear
Foods high in insoluble fibre:
- Brown rice, whole wheat, wheat bran
- Seeds and nuts
- Many kinds of vegetables including green leafy vegetables, cabbage and tomato
Fibre supplements do not have the same health benefits as naturally occurring high-fibre foods, says Ms Chong.
“We should be eating more natural fibre which is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts rather than taking fibre supplements. Besides fibre, whole food contains nutrients including antioxidants and other biological active components which can offer more protection against chronic diseases.”
Tips to include more fruits and vegetables in meals:
- Take a fruit after your meal or have it as a snack
- Add fruit to your whole grain cereals
- Have the fruit with its skin
- Include vegetables in your meals
- Ask for more vegetables when ordering food
- Purchase a variety of fruit and vegetables to provide sufficient fibre intake for everyone in the family