~ Health Advice from PMGH – Benefits of a High Fibre Diet – Part 1 of 3 ~

Welcome to another health update from the Port Moresby General Hospital. This week we are focusing on the benefits of a high fibre diet. Are you getting enough?
What Is Fibre?
Dietary fibre is an essential nutrient required for proper digestion of foods, proper functioning of the digestive tract and for helping you feel full. A deficiency of fibre can lead to constipation, haemorrhoids, and elevated levels of cholesterol and sugar in the blood. Conversely, an excess of fibre can lead to a bowel obstruction, diarrhoea, or even dehydration. Dietary fibre — found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes — is best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fibre can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Dietary fibre includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates — which your body breaks down and absorbs — fibre isn’t digested by your body. Instead it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body.
There are two categories of fibre, and we need to eat both in our daily diets, which are:
Soluble Fibre – This type of fibre dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fibre can also help with constipation.
Insoluble Fibre – This type of fibre promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools.
How Much Fibre Do You Need?
The Heart Foundation recommends that adults should aim to consume approximately 25–30 g daily. Children aged between four and eight need a minimum of 18g of fibre each day.
Conditions Linked To Low-Fibre Diets –
Eating a diet low in fibre can contribute to many disorders, including:
Constipation – small, hard and dry faecal matter that is difficult to pass
Haemorrhoids – varicose veins of the anus
Diverticulitis – small hernias of the digestive tract caused by long-term constipation
Irritable bowel syndrome – pain, flatulence and bloating of the abdomen
Overweight and obesity – carrying too much body fat
Coronary heart disease – a narrowing of the arteries due to fatty deposits
Diabetes – a condition characterised by too much glucose in the blood
Colon cancer – Cancer of the large intestine.
Diet, Cancer and Heart Disease –
Increasing dietary fibre and whole grain intake is likely to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, weight gain and obesity, and possible overall mortality. It is also very likely that these observed health benefits occur indirectly, through the protective effects of ‘phytochemicals’ (such as antioxidants) that are closely associated with the fibre components of fruits, vegetables and cereals.
Studies have shown that dietary fibre, cereal fibre and whole grains are protective against colorectal cancer. Fibre is thought to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer by increasing stool bulk, diluting possible carcinogens present in the diet and decreasing transit time through the colon. Also, bacterial fermentation of fibre results in the production of short-chain fatty acids, which are thought to have protective effects against colorectal cancer.
Your Best Fibre Choices –
If you aren’t getting enough fibre each day, you may need to boost your intake. Good choices include:
– Whole-grain products
– Fruits
– Vegetables
– Beans, peas and other legumes
– Nuts and seeds
Remember: High-fibre foods are good for your health. But adding too much fibre too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fibre in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks which allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change. Also, drink plenty of water. Fibre works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky.