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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tamer Rezk

Why you might be deficient in this major food substance without knowing

It is a serious nutritional deficiency that is silently affecting many of us. But it’s not what you think – not a vitamin, or a mineral. We’re talking about nutritional fibre. Most of us probably don’t think about much of it we consume on a day-to-day basis. With so much focus on calorie- fat and sugar intake, fibre has long been neglected as one of the most important dietary requirements for a healthy lifestyle. It’s time to learn about the significance of fibre and make it our new best friend.

Why do we need to care about fibre?

Firstly, it’s important to know that is group of substances that come in several forms – each with an essential contribution to the body’s function. Notably, soluble fibre (found in foods such as lentils, seeds, beans, oat bran some fruit and vegetables) turns into gel-form in the body as it attracts water. It has been linked to heart health as it has been found to eliminate cholesterol from the body by binding to it. It can also have a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels when consumed alongside sugars by slowing the body’s absorption of sugar. Importantly, soluble fibre (found in foods such as vegetables and whole grains) can also have a beneficial impact on the bacterial flora in the gut.

Meanwhile, insoluble fibre, the other major group, does not dissolve in the body. Rather it forms the roughage or bulk that helps to move food through the digestive system preventing constipation and helping the body get rid of waste more quickly.

Basically, fibre is an essential part of the body’s magical machinery. Without it, we risk becoming sluggish, both mentally and physically.

Are you suffering from fibre deficiency?

It is not hard to see how fibre-deficiency can emerge among those of us having high-sugar, high-processed foods as these diets are often totally stripped of nutritional content. But even those of us who consider ourselves as having a ‘healthy lifestyle’ can be at risk of fibre deficiency. People on high fat, high protein diets (who also are not getting enough fruit and vegetables in their diet), are also at risk, as much-needed fibre is typically found in the complex carbohydrates that are often forsaken in weight-loss diets.

The truth is that our fear of carbohydrates prevents us from seeing that high fibre foods get us full faster and for longer and can actually be a great help in preventing weight gain.

Without sufficient amounts of fibre people suffer a range of short- and long-term conditions, some of which to can contribute to chronic illness and in the worst-case fatal results. In the short-term, a low fibre diet may cause constipation and blood sugar vacillations; it may worsen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and keep our cholesterol high. In the longer-term, the effects can be even more serious, contributing to cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

So, how much fibre should we aim to have in our diet? Recommendations will vary depending on sex, height and weight, but as a rule of thumb adults should aim for 25-35 grams of fibre each day. For perspective, 100g of boiled chickpeas contain roughly (no pun intended) 8g of fibre, 100g of oats some 10.6g of fibre, and broccoli 2.6g. Meanwhile, cheese, meat, poultry and eggs, while notable for other nutritional benefits, contain none at all.

Here’s what I recommend:

For some of us, addressing our fibre deficiency will involve a significant shift away from our daily habits, particularly away from refined foods which have been stripped of critical fibre content. Take a look at your diet and see if you can work out how much fibre you are getting, and pay attention to your bowel movements and whether you are ‘regular’ and even what your stool looks like (is it firm and easy to pass?). If you find that you need to increase your fibre intake, do it gradually as a sudden increase can result in stomach discomfort, gas and constipation. Instead, work your way up to the daily recommended amount. Also, make sure you are also drinking enough water as fibre and water work hand-in-hand to keep the cogs of the machinery turning.

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