Do you find yourself often wondering about why you’re packing on the pounds even though you’re working out and eating healthy? It might be because you’re not having enough of what you really need. The simple secret to weight management can be increasing the amount of fibre consumed. High fibre food fills you up with fewer calories because they are naturally bulky and cleanse the gut while they’re at it, but that’s not all they do. Here’s why you need to load up on them to reach your optimum fitness goal.
How does fibre work?
To know how fibre helps the body stay healthy, let’s first understand fibre. In simple terms, dietary fibre is a plant-based carbohydrate that the body can’t break down or absorb. So unlike sugars and starch, this component can be digested in the small intestine. Because this roughage can’t be digested, our bodies don’t use it as an energy source. Depending on whether the fibre dissolves during digestion, they are classified as soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre, found in whole grains such as oats, ragi and barley, as well as in beans, apples, citrus fruits and seeds like flaxseeds, can dissolve in water to form a gel-like substance that slows down digestion. This can help stabilise blood sugar levels and curb hunger, which in turn helps to maintain healthy weight.
“Soluble fibre contain b-glucan, which has [been] found to have an effect on blood cholesterol levels, thus reducing the LDL and triglycerides and increasing HDL,” explains Harpreet Pasricha, a nutritionist and diet consultant in Goa. “Soluble fibre also helps those with diabetes to manage their blood glucose levels, as ingestion of these foods have [been] found to slow down digestion and absorption and hence lead to slow rise in blood glucose levels.” Insoluble fibre, such as whole wheat, leafy vegetables and nuts, is the one that the body doesn’t break down at all. “Adding fibre to your diet, particularly insoluble fibre, can aid in normalising bowel movements by bulking up the stool, making it easier to pass through the digestive tract. In addition, the right amount of fibre in the diet can also help reduce risk of digestive health problems such as irritable bowel syndrome. So it moves through your digestive track, helping everything move along with it,” she explains. Through a high-fibre diet, you are ensuring that your body is naturally and regularly mopping up digestive and cellular debris, environmental toxins and surplus hormones, which reduces the load on the gut.
What is fibre’s role in clear, glowing skin?
“Fibre or roughage helps [the] body get rid of toxic substances and play a catalyst role in detoxifying the body. It protects the body from inflammation, acne, clogged pores and dull and dry skin,” states Dr Chiranjiv Chhabra, director and consultant dermatologist at Skin Alive. Fibre-rich foods have plentiful benefits like preventing constipation, heart diseases, diabetes and strengthening bones, but they also work to bring out an inner skin glow and improve skin clarity. “Fruits such as apple, avocado, papaya and guava are very rich in fibre and have antioxidant properties that protect the skin from sun damage, and restore collagen, which helps improve the texture of the skin. Walnut is another fibre-rich food that helps prevent skin inflammation, and gives a boost to the complexion. Vegetables like legumes, broccoli, and tomatoes increase skin’s hydration levels as well, leading to a glowing complexion.”
The inside story: Gut feels
The gut plays a major role in the in the health and well-being of the entire body. Dr Lisa Ganjhu, clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, explains that she often refers to the brain as a part of the gastrointestinal system, because the brain and gut are in constant communication. Both these organs play key roles in managing our stress level, and our mood or state of mind. Our gut is filled with nerve cells that receive and provide information to the brain (the basis of mind-body alignment), and also produces more than 90 per cent of the serotonin produced by the body—a hormone that helps regulate our mood or emotions. So a clogged gut affects the way our body communicates with our brains, further clouding our judgments and decision-making skills. That queasy feeling in the tummy that comes with nervousness is due to an imbalance in the gut. A clear gut is like a passport to stress-free living as your mind and body are always in sync. On the external side, if your gut is clear, your body will feel lighter and your skin will glow; the genesis of what we call ‘beautiful inside out’.
How should you load up on fibre?
Adding bulk to your diet may seem challenging than it actually is. The USDA recommends that women under 50 get at least 25gms of fibre a day, whereas the figure for men rises up to 38. But the truth is, not all of us have the skill to measure fibre to the last gram. “If you are having 250-300 grams of veggies and fruits combined, that is about seven to eight cups, you are doing just fine,” says Dr Siddhant Bhargav, nutritionist and keto expert. Begin your day with a high-fibre cereal, often a great weight loss strategy. “Eat more greens, beans and legumes, and choose whole grains over refined as often as possible. The refining process removes the bran from the grain just as peeling fruits and vegetables sheds most fibre. Drink plenty of water, as fibre works best when it absorbs water.” For a savoury Indian flavour, trade the milk and oats porridge for a veggie loaded version, and find ways to include seeds like flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and melon seeds in your diet. You can roast and keep a mix handy to snack on, or sprinkle some on salads or soups too.
But as always, it is imperative to keep the regular functioning of your own body in mind before changing your diet. Pasricha cautions that “those who have a history of gut inflammation and acidity should only consume soluble fibre and be aware of the quantities of fibre [they’re ingesting], as excess can irritate the stomach lining.”