Long-grain brown rice is often thought of as a healthier option to white rice, which it is, because there is a common belief that it’s fibre content is much higher (white rice only having 0.4g of fibre and brown rice 1.8g per 100g serving). Although a little higher in fibre content, compared to many other foods, this does not constitute a high source of fibre. It’s surprising when you study the fibre content in food the amount of fibre that they contain, for example 100g of Quinoa contains approximately double the fibre of brown rice, with 3g per 100g.
According to official recommendations we should take in about 25g-30g fibre per day… The majority of us, however, are far from this, with the national average consuming just 18g! So what is fibre and why is it so important?
Fibre is a material present in plant foods that can not be digested in the small intestine and so travels to the large intestine in tact. There are 2 different types of dietary fibre; soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre is the type that dissolves in water. It is found in oats, legumes (or pulses), vegetables, seeds and fruit. It forms a sort of gel in the intestine and it attaches to fats and slows down the digestion of sugars (which helps us feel full for longer and protects us from insulin spikes after eating). Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water but absorbs it which helps soften the contents, aiding in regular bowel movements. It is found in wholemeal breads and cereals, the skin of fruit and vegetables, and in nuts and seeds. This type of fibre generally takes more chewing which gives a quicker sensation of satiety and helps produce more saliva whilst eating which in turn aids in digestion.
Many studies have linked the consumption of fibre to lowered risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several cancers. Interestingly, one study found that in areas of the world where there was a high fibre diet many of the diseases and cancers that are found in countries with a low-fibre but high ‘empty calorie’ diet (such as the UK or USA) didn’t even exist. Fibre consumption also helps prevent constipation, and thus haemorrhoids, and can help with maintaining a healthy weight. High fibre foods also have the added benefit of containing lots of beneficial vitamins and minerals too.
Although there are no known clinical studies with proof, we can see a link between the GI of a food and it’s fibre content. GI (glycemic index) is a rating system which shows how quickly food affects your blood sugar levels when eaten alone. Generally, high fibre foods are also low GI foods because they take longer to digest and thus release sugar into the blood slower. (Please note though that not all foods with a low GI are healthy and not all with a high GI are unhealthy – this is just an interesting observation)
What next? Now you know the benefits of fibre you need to add more of it into your diet. You can start by checking the fibre content in the nutrition panel of food you buy at the supermarket; foods with 4g or more per serving being a good source, foods with 7g or more per serving being an excellent source. Then you can step up your 5-a-day adherence and take in more fruit and vegetables daily. You can also swap white for wholemeal and opt for a snack of nuts and dried fruit (not covered in chocolate) instead of your usual sweet treat. Remember to always drink lots of water too as that will help with digestion. Below is an example of an ideal menu to get all the fibre you need for a day to give you some ideas.
Worried that you might not tolerate the change too well? Don’t worry, just go at it a step at a time and introduce this new diet over a period of time. You can always use little tricks like marinating raw vege in a sauce with olive oil and lemon juice for an hour before serving to help with digestion, and adding cumin to help with bloating. And don’t worry if you get a bit more wind with this diet… It’s only natural!