Importance of Dietary Fibre

Importance of Dietary Fibre
Fibre forms the skeletal system of plants. Without it no plant or tree would be able to stand
upright. Dietary fibre, the roughage of yesteryears, consists of those parts of the plant foods that
cannot be digested by enzymes or other digestive secretions in the ailmentary canal.
Dietary fibre plays an important role in the maintenance of health and prevention of diseases.
There is sufficient evidence to suggest that an artificial depletion of fibre as in case of refined
cereals and sugar has over the last 100 years contributed to several degenerative diseases.
Recent studies in this area indicate that sufficient intake of fibre-rich diet may help prevent
obesity, colon cancer, heart disease, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis and
diabetic conditions.
Studies have also established that dietary fibre is a collection of elements with a variety of
functions rather than a single substance with single function as was assumed earlier. This new
insight into the true nature of fibre has given the lie to old beliefs that bran is synonymous with
fibre, that all fibre is fibrous or stringy and that all fibre tastes the same.
Physiological effects
Fibre in the diet promotes more frequent bowel movements and softer stools having increased
weight. The softness of stools is largely due to the presence of emulsified gas which is produced
by the bacterial action on the fibre. A high fibre intake results in greater efficiency in the
peristaltic movement of the colon. This helps in relieving the constipation which is the main
cause of several acute and chronic diseases.
Recent studies suggest that increasing the dietary fibre intake may be beneficial for patients with
irritated bowel syndrome who have diarrhoea and rapid colonic transit, as well as to those who
have constipation and slow transit. The high fibre diet, like bran, thus regulates the condition
inside the colon so as to avoid both extremes - constipation and diarrhoea.
Investigations have shown that several potential carcinogens are produced in the faeces. Their
production is related to the acidity of the gut content. The greater the acidity in the bowel
content, the less is the production of these carcinogens. The breaking down of the fibre by
bacteria renders the faeces more acidic. This reduces the amount of possible carcinogenic
substances. Fibre also reduces the possibility of formation of harmful toxins in the large intestine
by reducing the intestinal transit time of the food contents.
Dietary fibre increases the bacteria in the large intestines which require nitrogen for their growth.
This in turn reduces the chances of cancerous changes in cells by reducing the amount of
ammonia in the large bowel. Fibre reduces the absorption of cholesterol in the diet. It also slows
down the rate of absorption of sugars from the food in the digestive system. Certain types of
fibre increase the viscosity of the food content. This increased viscosity indirectly reduces the
need for insulin secreted by the pancreas. Thus a fibre-rich diet can help in diabetes mollitus
Sources of Fibre
The most significant food sources of fibre are unprocessed wheat bran, whole cereals such as
wheat, rice, barley, rye, millets ; legumes such as potato, carrots, beet , turnip and sweet potato ;
fruits like mango and guava and leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce and celery. The
percentage of fibre content per 100 gms. of some foods are : bran 10.5-13.5, whole grain
cereals 1.0-2.0, nuts 2.0-5.0, legumes 1.5-1.7, vegetables 0.5-1.5, fresh fruits 0.5-1.5, and dried
fruits 1.0-3.0. The foods which are completely devoid of fibre are meat, fish , eggs, milk, cheese,
fats and sugars.
Bran, the outer coverings of grains, is one of the richest sources of dietary fibre. And it contains
several types of fibre including cellulose, hermicellulose and pectin. Wheat and corn bran are
highly beneficial in relieving constipation. Experiments show that oat bran can reduce cholesterol
levels substantially. Corn bran is considered more versatile. It relieves constipation and also

lowers LDL cholesterol, which is one of the more harmful kinds. Besides being rich in fibre, bran
has a real food value being rich in time, iron and vitamins and containing a considerable amount
of protein.
Dr.Dennis P. Burkitt, a noted British physician remarks, " Grain roughages, such as rich bran
and wheat bran, are an essential part of a healthy diet, and a preventive against diseases like
piles, constipation, bowel cancer, varicose veins and even coronary thrombosis. " Dr. Burkitt
worked for many years in Africa and found after a series of observations that rural Africans who
eat bulk of fibrous foods rarely suffer from any of these diseases.
Legumes have high fibre content. Much of this fibre is water- soluble, which makes legumes
likely agents for lowering cholesterol. Soyabeans, besides this, can also help control glucose
The types of fibre contained in vegetables and fruits contribute greatly towards good health. The
vegetables with the biggest fibre ratings include sweet corn, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and
peas. And among the high ranking fruits are raspberries, pears, strawberries and guavas.
Types of Fibres
There are six classes of fibre. They are cellulose, hemicellouse, pectin, gums, mucilages and
legnin. They differ in physical properties and chemical interactions in the gut, though all except
legnin are poly-saceharides. The facts known so far about these forms of fibre as a result of
various studies are discussed below.
Cellulose : It is the most prevalent fibre. It is fibrous and softens the stool. It abounds in fruits,
vegetables, bran, whole-meal bread and beans. It is also present in nuts and seeds. It increases
the bulk of intestinal waste and eases it quickly through the colon. Investigations indicate that
these actions may dilute and flush cancer-causing toxins out of the intestinal tract. They also
suggest that cellulose may help level out glucose in the blood and curb weight gain.
Hermicellulose : It is usually present wherever cellulose is and shares some of its traits. Like
cellulose, it helps relieve con- stipation, waters down carcinogens in the bowel and aids in
weight reduction. Both cellulose and hemicellulose undergo some bacterial breakdown in the
large intestine and this produces gas.
Pectin : This form of fibre is highly beneficial in reducing serum cholesterol levels. It, however,
does not have influence on the stool and does nothing to prevent constipation. Researchs are
being conducted to ascertain if pectin can help eliminate bile acids through the intestinal tract
thereby preventing gallstones and colon cancer. It is found in apples, grapes, berries, citrus
fruits, guava, raw papaya and bran.
Gums and Mucilages : They are the sticky fibres found in dried beans, oat bran and oatmeal.
Investigations have shown that they are useful in the dietary control of diabetes and cholesterol.
Legnin : The main function of legnin is to escort bile acid and cholesterol out of the intestines.
There is some evidence that it may prevent the formation of gallstones. It is contained in cereals,
bran, whole meal flour, raspberries, strawberries, cab- bage, spinach, parsley and tomatoes.
The best way to increase fibre content in the diet is to increase the constipation of wholemeal
bread, brown rice, peas beans, lentils, root vegetables and sugar -containing fruits, such as
dates, apples, pears and bananas. The intake of sugar, refined cereals, meat, eggs and dairy
products should be reduced. Candies, pastries, cakes which are rich in both sugar and fat,
should be taken sparingly. White processed bread should be completely eliminated from the
Requirement :
There are divergent views as to the requirement of dietary fibre for good health. There is no
recommended daily dietary allowance for it and hardly any data about optimum amounts. Some
Africans known for lower incidence of degenerative diseases take about 150 grams of fibre a
day. In Europe and North America, where there is a high incidence of such diseases, people
take 25 grams or less a day. Dr. John H. Cummings, a noted fibre expert in England, considers

that a fibre intake of 30 grams ( about one ounce ) per day is sufficient for good health.
Excessive consumption of fibre, especially bran, should however, be avoided. Due to its content
of crude fibre, bran is relatively harsh and it may irritate the delicate functioning of the digestive
system, especially in the sick and the weak. Excessive use of fibre may also result in loss of
valuable minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium from the body through
excretion due to quick passage of food from the intestine.

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