Fibre's role goes beyond keeping our digestive tract in order. It can also help with weight loss or maintenance, control blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
However, many of us are not hitting our daily recommended amount of fibre - 20g for women and 26g for men.
Also, one in four Singaporeans experience chronic constipation. If you are one of them, here is how you can add fibre to your diet.
GET A GOOD MIX OF FIBRE
Dietary fibre, derived from plants, is divided into two main groups: Soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre absorbs water as it passes through your digestive tract, softening stool so it can be passed out easily, thus easing constipation. Soluble fibre can be found in fruits (oranges, bananas, apples), starchy carbohydrates (sweet potatoes), legumes (beans and peas), barley and oats.
Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, does not absorb water and passes through the digestive system in more or less its original form. It increases stool size and bulk, thus promoting regular bowel movement. Insoluble fibre can be found in whole grains such as brown rice, wholemeal bread, cereals, nuts and seeds.
Therefore, whole foods (food that has been processed or refined as little as possible) contain either type of fibre that is needed to keep things moving smoothly.
GO FOR WHOLE GRAINS
Unlike refined grains such as white rice, pasta and white bread, whole grains go through minimal processing and remain largely intact.
Refined grains are stripped of their vitamin-rich germ and fibre-rich hull, which allows the grains to last longer but results in much less nutrition. All that remains is a fast-absorbing carbohydrate that can cause fluctuations to blood sugar levels.
Swop refined grains for whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, barley, millet, quinoa, amaranth or bulgur wheat.
GRAB THOSE GREENS
Aside from lowering your risk of chronic illnesses and cancer, vegetables are also low in calories and high in nutrients, including fibre.
Eat a mix of starchy and non-starchy ones to get a good balance of soluble and insoluble fibre, and make sure you get a variety of greens to reap the array of nutritional benefits.
Have a salad or a bowl of vegetable soup before every meal for the nutrients.
Eating greens before your main meal has been shown to control your appetite so you do not overeat.
SNACK ON FRUITS
Fruits such as apples or pears are a handy snack to carry around. The skin of fruits provide insoluble fibre that adds bulk to our stool, and the flesh provides soluble fibre, some more so than others.
For example, one pear offers 5g of fibre, but a cup of watermelon offers only 1g. Berries, bananas and apples are other high-fibre fruits to munch on.
As a snack, the fibre from fruits, when paired with food that contains protein or fat, such as cheese or nut butters, helps keep us full.
POP NUTS AND SEEDS
Nuts are little nutrient powerhouses that provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, protein and fibre.
One ounce (28g) of almonds (about 24 of them, approximately a handful) contains 3g of fibre, on top of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and magnesium. You can easily toss them into your salad or yogurt for extra crunch.
Meanwhile, chia seeds top the list in terms of the amount of fibre provided. Apart from protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, it also brings 11g of fibre an ounce as each seed is 95 per cent soluble fibre.
Other seeds such as sesame and flax also offer similar nutritional benefits and help promote colon health.
LOAD UP ON LEGUMES
Beans, lentils and peas are rich in fibre, as well as carbs, protein, vitamins and minerals.
A cup of cooked beans as a side in your meal can meet up to 75 per cent of your daily fibre needs.Eating this instead of meat can help reduce your risk of chronic diseases and increase your lifespan, because of positive impact on microorganisms in the gut.
Also try having bean dips such as hummus during snack time, or top your salad with lentils, kidney beans or chickpeas.
HAVE YOUR AVOCADO AND EAT IT
Avocados are one of the most nutritious fruits to have. Its creamy flesh is rich in not just monounsaturated omega-3 fatty acids but also fibre. Half an avocado provides 5g of fibre, and one full avocado (depending on its size) can offer up to 18g.
Apart from using avocado in place of butter on toast, you can add mashed or sliced avocado to your salad or smoothie, or have it as a dip.
KICK-START YOUR DAY WITH CEREAL
Quality breakfast cereals typically contain at least 10g of dietary fibre for every 100g serving. Look for cereals that include "whole grain" or "bran" on the box and that contain both whole grains and fibre.
Balance it out with some slow-digesting protein (eggs) and carbs (fruits), to keep your blood sugar levels consistent.
Alternatively, add a few tablespoons of wheat bran to your regular cereal for extra fibre, or eat your cereal with yogurt for some probiotic goodness.
Source: The New Paper © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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