Dietary fibre, otherwise known as roughage, has long been touted for its ability to keep you regular and prevent constipation. But new research continues to shed light on the many benefits fibre has to offer. Beyond bowel health, a diet high in fibre has a wide range of health advantages, including lowering cholesterol, decreasing the risk of some cancers and aiding in weight loss. Fibre also plays a role in decreasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, an issue that's especially important in the UAE where rates of diabetes are among the highest in the world. Yet despite it's powerful punch - most people consume far less than they need.
The good news is it's easier than you think to increase your fibre intake, and many local foods are brimming with the stuff. Dietary fibre can be broken down into two categories, insoluble fibre and soluble fibre. Insoluble fibre is the type of fibre that prevents constipation. As it passes through the body, it soaks up water like a sponge, helping to move along the contents of the digestive tract. Good sources include wholegrain products, fruits and vegetables.
Soluble fibre on the other hand, is the type of fibre that is responsible for lowering cholesterol and blood glucose levels. As soluble fibre passes through the digestive tract, it dissolves in water and forms a sticky gel, which traps substances related to cholesterol and helps remove them from the body. Good sources include oats, legumes (like peas and lentils) as well as apples and citrus fruits.
Soluble fibre is especially beneficial to diabetics because it helps slow the speed at which food leaves the stomach, and can help prevent the spike in blood sugar after a meal. Women should aim to get 25 grams of fibre per day, while men should aim for 38 grams. Numerous studies have shown that the average adult consumes far less - about 15 grams per day. Luckily you don't have to discriminate between the two different types of fibre - what matters most is the total amount of fibre you eat in a day.
Being aware of foods that are high in fibre and choosing them more often will help to boost your fibre intake. In the UAE there are plenty of local dishes that contain a hefty dose of fibre. For instance, a serving of dried dates (eight dates) has nearly five grams of fibre, while a serving of hummus has a whopping 11 grams. A whole-wheat pita (16cm in diameter), has more than four grams. Wholegrains and wholegrain products, beans, lentils, seeds, nuts and fruits and vegetables are all good sources. Some simple substitutions will go a long way with increasing your daily fibre intake. For instance, wholegrain bread, cereal, pasta or brown rice are all much higher in fibre than their refined counterparts. Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juice, opt for legumes (such as lentils) instead of meat a couple of times per week, eat thin skinned fruit and root vegetables with the skin on, and choose high fibre snacks throughout the day including raw vegetables, unsalted nuts, wholegrain crackers or low fat air-popped popcorn.
In the supermarket, check labels for fibre content. As a rule of thumb, two grams of fibre per serving is considered a source of fibre, four grams of fibre per serving is a high source of fibre, and six grams is a very high source of fibre. In light of the many health benefits of fibre, some people are turning to fibre supplements to boost their intake. However, very few fibre supplements have been studied for their safety and effectiveness. The best source of fibre remains whole food items. Foods high in fibre also tend to be low in fat, and a rich source of vitamins and minerals - making them an excellent choice as part of a healthy diet.
And finally, if you're making an effort to increase your total daily fibre intake, do so slowly. A rapid increase in fibre intake can cause stomach discomfort and wind. And since fibre absorbs water, you should always increase your fluid intake when you increase your fibre intake.