The case for fibre

Dietary fibre is the ultimate diet food. It's also one of the most useful nutrients known to mankind. These indigestible components which are found in foods of plant origin, also help digestion (and prevent constipation), lower high blood fat levels, and improve blood glucose control.

Fibre's role in weight management is fascinating:

  • foods with a high dietary fibre content produce a feeling of fullness or satiety for longer than foods that have had most of their dietary fibre content processed out
  • a high fibre content reduces the amount of energy foods contain, because it's indigestible - you absorb no energy from it
  • dietary fibre takes up water and swells in the digestive tract, thus promoting bowel movements in a natural way to prevent constipation, which often occurs when you use slimming diets
  • high-fibre foods take the place of high-fat or high-GI foods and have to be chewed for longer before they can be swallowed. This helps slimmers to feel less deprived.

How you can use dietary fibre for slimming
Unless there is something else at work in your body's make-up, the starting point if you want to lose weight, is to reduce your energy intake and increase your energy expenditure with exercise. The quickest way to achieve energy reduction, is to eat less fat, because 1g of dietary fat supplies 37kJ of energy compared to 17kJ per gram for protein and carbohydrates.

However, to prevent that starving feeling, which is fatal for slimming diets, you need to eat foods that make you feel full. The answer is to eat plenty of high-fibre foods.

International recommendations are that adult diets contain at least 20g of dietary fibre a day. Most Western populations don’t get anywhere near this. For slimming purposes (as well as for the other health benefits), it's a good idea to aim for 40g a day.

How do you achieve this?

The following foods supply more that 3g of dietary fibre per serving (one serving equals 1/2 cup of cereals, cooked vegetables and nuts, one fruit, or one slice of bread):

  • Hi-Fibre Bran and All Bran cereals, fruit and bran cereals, muesli, rye bread, sweet potato, wholewheat pasta, figs, oranges, grapefruit, apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut, green beans, brinjal, bananas, cooked beans, lentils and split peas, nuts (should be eaten in smaller quantities when slimming), samp and beans.
  • The following foods supply between 1 and 3g of dietary fibre per serving, but are also very useful in slimming diets because they are generally eaten in larger quantities: wholewheat bread, oats porridge, wholewheat and brown bread, potatoes, wheat biscuits (use low-fat variety), carrots, spinach, beetroot, cabbage, cauliflower.

To ensure that you eat sufficient dietary fibre, especially when you are trying to lose weight, try the following meal suggestions:

Start the day with Hi-Fibre Bran cereal plus low-fat milk, a slice of wholewheat toast with a scraping of Lite margarine, and an orange (19g fibre).

Make a lunch-pack of an apple, carrot salad, 2 slices wholewheat bread with a scraping of lite margarine and low-fat cottage cheese, a hard boiled egg, or lean meat or fish, or have baked beans on wholewheat toast (11-21g of dietary fibre - 21g if you have the baked beans on toast!).

Serve lean meat or fish prepared without added fat with a selection of high-fibre vegetables and salads (17g dietary fibre).

Total for day: 47-57g of dietary fibre without even trying!

If you use these guidelines to increase your dietary fibre intake and reduce your fat intake, you'll start losing weight and discover that dietary fibre is really the slimmer’s friend.

- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated November 2008)

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