Fibre comes in two forms. Dietary fibre, which is the indigestible parts of plants that form the support structures of leaves, stems, and seeds. In a sense, you can think of dietary fibre as a plant’s skeleton. Functional fibre consists of the indigestible forms of carbohydrates that are extracted from plants or manufactured in a laboratory and have known health benefits. Functional fibre is added to foods and is the form used in fibre supplements. Examples of functional fibre you might see on nutritional labels include cellulose, guar gum, pectin, and psyllium. (2)(Nutrition: A Functional Approach).
Most fibres pass through the digestive system without being digested and absorbed, so they contribute no energy to our diet. However, fibre offers many other health benefits.
Fibre helps us stay healthy
Research indicates that it may prevent many digestive and chronic diseases. The following are potential benefits of fibre consumption:
- May reduce the risk of colon cancer. Although there is some controversy surrounding this issue, many researchers believe that fibre binds cancer-causing substances and speeds their elimination from the colon. However, recent studies of color cancer and fibre have shown that the relationship between them is not as strong as previously thought (1)(Aune, Chan, and Lay, 2011; Park et al., 2005).
- Helps prevent hemorrhoids, constipation, and other intestinal problems by keeping our stools moist and soft. Fibre gives gut muscles something to push on and make it easier to eliminate stools.
- Reduces the risk for diverticulosis, a condition that is caused in part by trying to eliminate small, hard stools. A great deal of pressure must be generated in the large intestine to pass hard stools. This increased pressure weakens intestinal walls, causing them to bulge outward and form pockets. Feces and fibrous materials can get trapped in these pockets, which become infected and inflamed. This is a painful condition that must be treated with antibiotics or surgery.
- May reduce the risk of heart disease by delaying or blocking the absorption of dietary cholesterol into the bloodstream.
- May enhance weight loss, as eating a high-fibre diet causes a person to feel more full. People who eat a fibre-rich diet tend to eat fewer fatty and sugary foods.
- May lower the risk for type 2 diabetes. In slowing digestion and absorption, soluble fibre also slows the release of glucose into the blood. It thereby improves the body’s regulation of insulin production and blood glucose levels.
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