Are You Really Getting Enough Fibre In Your Diet?


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By Kate Ashford; Photography by Pixabay

Fill up, not out, by loading your plate with this key ingredient.

Screw self-restraint. We’ve got a better plan: stuff yourself silly. There’s a way to fill your mouth and stomach without doing the same to your yoga pants. It’s called fibre. A clean diet focuses on choosing foods that are low in fat, loaded with essential vitamins and, of course, high in fibre. “It is the secret to losing weight without hunger,” says dietician Tanya Zuckerbrot, author of The F-Factor Diet. Do nothing to your diet other than add more of the rough stuff and you’ll lose four kilograms in a year, effortlessly.

Here’s how this wonder substance works – and why you’d have to be nuts to let a day pass with less than your recommended 25g.

Fibre 101

What is it, exactly, that we’re asking you to shovel into your body? It is the indigestible part of a plant. It’s in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and beans. And now that the fibre trend is catching on, you’ll also find it added to yoghurt, soya milk, pasta and more. Other foods pause to pay a toll along your gastrointestinal highway, but the rough stuff zips through because your body can’t digest it. Like seat fillers at the Oscars, fibre fills a void and then vanishes when something better takes its place. You’ve probably heard of the two kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre tends to hide inside foods – the flesh of apples; the grain of rice inside the hull.

It’s what gives cooked veggies their soft, mushy quality. In your stomach, soluble fibre binds with liquids to form a gummy gel that makes you feel full as it slows digestion, letting your body absorb more nutrients from the rest of your food. Insoluble fibre is what most octogenarians are after. It bulks up as it absorbs liquid in the stomach; the bulk pushes waste down and out of your system. Insoluble fibre is usually found in the skin and outer parts of foods, and it’s what gives many their tough, chewy texture. “Think of insoluble fibre as a broom,” says Zuckerbrot. “It speeds up the passage of material through your digestive tract and sweeps out all the toxins in your body.” Translation: goodbye, constipation. As long as you’re eating natural foods, you’ll reap the belly-filling benefits of both kinds of roughage. By taking up space in your stomach, it foils overeating by making you feel too stuffed to keep snacking.

Diamonds in the roughage

The only bad thing about it is that most of us don’t get enough of it. “Research by the Medical Research Council and other institutions has shown that the intake of fruit and veg by South Africans is below the recommended levels,” says dietician Dr Celeste Naudé. Remember that RDA of 25g? SA women living in urban areas squeak by on about 17g, with rural women doing better on about 21g. Too many of us opt for fibre-empty food like chips and fizzy drinks. Fibre-rich foods deliver more bang for their bulk: they tend to be the most nutrient-dense, which matters if you’re cutting kilojoules.

“It’s always better to get your roughage from whole foods, because they provide other beneficial nutrients and non-nutrient compounds too,” says Naudé. Supplements and add-ins don’t have the same nutritional benefits as whole foods. But before you start eating kidney beans by the truckload, remember that most experts recommend upping your intake gradually. A sudden increase can leave you bloated and gassy – side effects sure to sabotage your efforts to look good in a miniskirt. “If you’re getting about 10g a day and suddenly shoot up to 25, you’re going to experience a little discomfort,” says Naudé. “Your digestive system is just not used to that bulkiness.”

A better strategy: start small and build up. And drink plenty of H2O – without it, you may find yourself in more of a bind (pun intended). Don’t go overboard, either. Fibre’s benefits wane once you hit 50g per day. And too much can compromise the absorption of vitamins and minerals.

If you’re not getting enough rough stuff through food, supplements can make up the difference. “There are good supplements available, which can be helpful in meeting fibre needs,” says Naudé. “Use these in specific situations when it’s not possible to get enough fibre from your diet.”

How To Sneak In Fibre

> Add a small salad to your dinner.
> Swap out your white rice for brown.
> Toss kidney beans or chickpeas in your soup.
> Switch to cereal with at least five grams of fibre per serving, or go 50-50 with your usual and a higher-octane variety.
> Eat high-fibre fruit like raspberries with light whipped cream for dessert

Looking for more info on fibre? Here are the four most important facts about fibre.

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