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Fibre & Weight Loss

Fibre and weight loss

Many of us get a lot less fibre than we need to maintain optimum health. For those of us with weight loss goals, consuming insufficient fibre each day is disastrous and may be stopping us from achieving our ideal weight.

Among its many benefits, fibre can help reduce the risk of developing harmful diseases and can help us to successfully lose weight long term.

This article explains what fibre is, why we need it, what diseases it helps combat, how it helps with weight loss and how to get more of it into our daily diets.

What is Dietary Fibre?

Dietary fibre is a complex carbohydrate that can't be digested. There are many different types of fibre, but it is commonly divided into two broad categories: insoluble and soluble fibre.

Soluble fibre, as the name suggests, dissolves in water, while insoluble fibre does not.

Because insoluble fibre passes through our body intact, helping to clean out our digestive systems, it is also known as roughage.

Fibre is present in all plant foods, and these foods are fibre's only natural source.

Why do we need Fibre?

Although it can't be digested, fibre plays a very important role in our daily diet.

Fibre is so important because it does three very important things:

  1. Aids in digestion
  2. Helps fight disease
  3. Helps in weight management

Fibre Aids digestion

Insoluble fibre stays in tact in our stomachs and helps to clean out our intestines. As it passes through our body, it absorbs water.

Soluble fibre gets broken down once it reaches our large bowel. Natural bacteria feed and multiply on this broken down fibre.

Fibre tends to slow down the rate of digestion, leading to a more gradual emptying of food from our stomach.

Fibre helps keep us regular and avoid constipation. It does this by increasing the bulk and softness of our stools by the increased water absorption and bacterial growth described above.

This increased bulk causes stools to be moved quickly through the digestive system and because the stools are softer, they are expelled easier than smaller, harder ones.

Finally, by helping to keep by-products of digestion moving quickly through the digestive system, fibre limits our body's exposure to potential toxins.

Fibre and disease prevention

While research into the health benefits of fibre is still being undertaken, it believed that it plays a major role in preventing or controlling some very serious diseases, such as:

  • intestinal disorders
  • bowel cancer
  • colon caner
  • breast cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • heart disease
  • haemorrhoids
  • gallstones
  • diabetes
  • obesity

Furthermore, most foods that are rich in fibre, are also low in fat and good sources of other nutrients which can also help prevent or control these and other serious medical conditions.

Fibre and weight loss

Fibre has been called the weight watcher's dream.

Research shows that people who have diets high in fibre typically have lower body weights, lower body fat and lower body mass indexes.

Some researchers believe that the high incidences of obesity in the western world is in part due to the fact that our diets are typically very low in fibre compared to other regions of the world such as Africa and Asia, where diets are predominantly plant based.

Fibre is important to those of us with weight loss goals because it:

  • takes longer to chew and digest making us feel satisfied sooner
  • takes up space in our stomach, making us feel full longer
  • helps us eat less food and consume fewer total calories
  • doesn't add calories because the body cannot absorb it
  • is found in foods naturally low in fat and calories
  • interferes with the absorption of fat
  • is found in foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals

The average fibre intake of adults in countries like Australia and the United States is around half the recommended level.

This frightening statistic is being made lower still by those who are following popular low-carbohydrate diets, such as the Atkins and South Beach diets because these diets restrict foods typically high in fibre and other complex carbohydrates needed to fuel our bodies.

How much Fibre do we need?

The Recommend Daily Intake (RDI) for dietary fibre is approximately 30g per day.

Most popular, highly processed foods do not supply large quantities of fibre and as a result many of us are getting much less than we should.

However, as with most things, it is possible to get too much of a good thing and fibre is no exception.

Consuming too much fibre (more than 50g per day) can cause problems like diarrhea and bloating, and can interfere with our body's absorption of essential vitamins and minerals.

How to get more Fibre into our daily diet

Increasing our consumption of complex carbohydrates is the best way to increase fibre intake.

However, our body needs time to adjust to increases in fibre and too large an increase too quickly can cause bloating, diarrhea, gas and discomfort. Because fibre absorbs water, we also need to increase the amount of water we drink when increasing our daily fibre intake.

If we need to add more fibre in our daily diet, it is important that we add it gradually over a number of weeks to avoid these problems.

Here are some ways we can all get more fibre in our diets and a list of some of the best sources of fibre:

Ways to increase daily fibre include:

  • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices
  • Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole-grain products
  • Choose whole-grain cereals for breakfast
  • Snack on raw vegetables
  • Substitute legumes for meat a couple of times per week
  • Experiment with international dishes that use whole grains and legumes
  • Eat less processed foods in favour of fresh foods
  • Top pancakes with warmed fruit
  • Sprinkle high-fibre cereal on yogurt, smoothies and fruit dishes
  • Top pasta with steamed vegetables
  • Always eat a side vegetable with dinner
  • Eat the skin of baked potatoes
  • When dining out, order an extra side of vegetables
  • Add veggies, dried beans or barley to soups
  • Use beans in stews
  • Add oranges, apples, pears or mangos to salads
  • Snack on low-fat, (lightly-salted or non-salted) popcorn
  • Use low-fat veggie dips and dressing
  • Never skip breakfast
  • Snack on cereal
  • Opt for packaged/processed foods that have the most fibre

The best sources of fibre include:

  • Legumes
  • Whole grains products, like cereals and breads
  • Fruits (Blackberries, dried dates, raspberries, etc)
  • Vegetables (Brussels sprouts, corn, parsnips, peas, etc)
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Jacket potatoes
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Nuts and seeds

The best way to get fibre in our daily diet is by eating the widest possible variety of fibre-rich foods.

When introducing more fibre into our diet it is a good idea to start slowly. Making one change at a time, like swapping white bread for wholemeal bread for example, is a great way to go and ensures that our body has time to get used to the change.

In addition, making small, relatively insignificant changes to our diet means that we are much more likely to stick with them.

Food labels and Nutritional Food Tables

Reading food labels and looking up the fibre content of the foods we eat on the Nutritional Food Tables available free on this website is one of the easiest ways to identify whether various foods contain a little or a lot of fibre.

In Australia and New Zealand, products that claim to be very high in fibre or an excellent source of fibre contain at least 6 grams of fibre per serve.

High fibre foods or those said to be a good source of fibre should contain at least 3 grams of fibre per serve, while products that claim to provide fibre or be a source of fibre must contain at least 1.5 grams of fibre per serve.

Fibre Supplements

When we can't get enough fibre through our diet, it may be appropriate to consider taking a fibre supplement.

Remember though that fresh foods are the preferred source of fibre because they contain other beneficial nutrients.

Either way, if we believe that we need to increase the fibre in our diet it is always a good idea to consult a nutritionist, dietitian or another suitably qualified health professional for help and advice.

Conclusion

Getting enough fibre is important to the health of us all, but is particularly important if we have weight loss goals.

Among its many benefits, fibre can help reduce the risk of developing harmful diseases and can help us to successfully achieve long term weight loss.

This article explained what fibre is, why we need it, what diseases it helps combat, how it helps with weight loss and how to get more of it into our daily diet.

Are you getting enough Fibre?

For more information on fibre, you may want to make an appointment with one of the many reputable dietitians found in our dietitians business directory.

We hope you've found this article helpful and thanks for visiting weightloss.com.au.

Copyright Ultimate Weightloss.

This article was written by Scott Haywood.

Scott is the editor of weightloss.com.au. Scott has developed an expertise in fitness and nutrition, and their roles in weight loss, which led him to launch weightloss.com.au in 2005. Today, weightloss.com.au provides weight loss and fitness information, including hundreds of healthy recipes, weight loss tools and tips, articles, and more, to millions of people around the world, helping them to lead happier, healthier, lives.

You can follow Scott on Google+ for more interesting articles.

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