Dr Paul Kasenene, a nutritionist, Bugolobi Wellness Center, describes fibre as a form of carbohydrate found in plants that, unlike starch, cannot be digested by the body. Fibre plays a significant role in helping to lower cholesterol, keeping blood sugars stable and aiding in weight loss. However, there are different types of fibres and each has particular benefits. The two classes of fibre are soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre has the capacity to absorb water and so it tends to swell when it comes in contact with water and forms a gel-like substance.
A well-balanced diet should include both soluble and insoluble fibre. But soluble fibre is hyped for its potential role in improving heart health by helping to lower total cholesterol levels and regulating blood sugar levels. Insoluble fibre speeds up the passage of materials through the digestive tract. Increasing your intake of foods high in total fibre will provide you with ample amounts of both types.
“Soluble fibre swells in your stomach, provides bulk to foods, and keeps you feeling full. This makes soluble fibre very useful in digestion mainly by helping to make fecal matter (stool) soft, making elimination easier. Soluble fibre also helps the digestive system retain food longer, which helps to promote satiety and therefore can mean eating less. This is very important for weight loss,” Dr Kasenene explains. It also ensures that nutrients have the opportunity to be fully absorbed in the intestines.
Soluble fibre also helps to regulate blood sugar levels; it has been consistently shown to be related to the reduction of blood cholesterol and unhealthy fat absorption by binding to it.
Nutritionist Sheila Karungi notes that soluble fibre called the lignans which is mostly found in flax seeds, wheat and legumes, is known to possess anticancer, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. “Ligans have the ability to bind to estrogen receptors in the body, which reduces the rate of cancer cell multiplication,” Karungi explains.
Another extremely useful soluble fibre is the inulin. It is low in calories, stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria, and does not lead to a rise in serum glucose or stimulate insulin secretion. Inulin has been used to improve the taste of low fat foods.
Some form of inulin known as probiotics helps the body stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria. “The body needs good bacteria in order to digest substances that it cannot break down such as many carbohydrates and chain fatty acids. Good bacteria also protect the body, especially the bowels from infections by allowing in the desirable nutrients and blocking the dangerous viruses and the bad bacteria,” Karungi says.
Soluble fibre also helps to delay the absorption of glucose and increases insulin sensitivity, resulting in improved glucose metabolism, ultimately helping to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
How much soluble fibre do I need?
There is no specific amount of soluble fibre that you should have in your diet. Instead, focus on total fibre (soluble and insoluble). Adult men should get 38 grams of total fibre and adult women should get 25 grams of fibre every day. If you need to lower your cholesterol, aim for at least 10 grams of soluble per day. Regardless of the type of fibre one consumes, it is always important to take in sufficient water, to keep the bowels moving.
According to Dr Kasenene, a nutritionist, foods with soluble fibre include:
• Some fruits such as apples and citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons
• Legumes such as beans, peas, lentils
• Seeds such as chia and pumpkin seeds
• Nuts, Oats, Mushrooms
• Some vegetables such as cabbage and sweet potatoes.