A Diet High in Fibre, the Most Important Nutrient
What is Dietary Fibre?
Fibre (or fiber if you're from the USA :) ) is the part of fruit and vegetables that we can't digest. It passes right through our bodies and with that in mind it seems odd that it gives us enormous benefits - in spite of never being absorbed. Sometimes it's called roughage or bulk. Whatever you call it, it's an essential part of your diet.
There are different types of fibre but the main division is between soluble and non-soluble fibre. Soluble fibre, as the name suggests, will dissolve in water and results in a thick gel, while non-soluble fibre increases the bulk of what you eat and helps the movement of food through your digestive system.
Some sources of soluble fibre are oats, apples, peas and beans, berries. Sources of non-soluble fibre can be nuts, bran, seeds.
Why Should We Eat More Fibre? - Benefits of a High Fibre Diet
The first and most obvious reason is that fibre keeps the digestive system healthy and moving. I had a bad attack of diverticulitis about two years ago and from that point made sure I followed a diet with higher fibre than I had before. I'm very happy to say that I have had no further trouble at all. It really has worked wonders for me.
Less immediately obvious benefits but nevertheless well known, are that fibre helps protect against heart disease; lowers your risk of colon cancer; reduces cholesterol; helps people control blood sugar.
Finally, and something I'm delighted to find, it fills you up and so you eat less, and it also makes you feel fuller for a longer time.
How Much Fibre Should We Eat?
The most common advice is to eat around 30 grams of fibre a day. But what is 30 grams of fibre? Really, I don't think it's practical to expect anyone to remember what the fibre content of food might be, or to carry around a chart and/or a set of scales.
My own method is just to remember which foods are high in fibre (officially 6g fibre or more in 100g) and which are good sources of fibre (3g or more of fibre in 100g). I fill up on a high fibre breakfast which I put together myself and top up with one or two other sources of fibre for midday and evening meals. It fulfils two targets - high fibre and five-a-day.
What Are Some High Fibre Foods?
Good sources of fibre include wholemeal or granary bread; wholegrain cereals; wholewheat pasta; brown rice; fruits such as raspberries, pears, blueberries, grapefruit; vegetables such as peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas.
If you often eat white bread, pasta, and rice, just by changing to the wholemeal or brown versions you can easily double or more your fibre intake.
Don't peel potatoes, eat them with their skins. The same goes for fruit where possible, washed of course.
Plums eaten raw will provide about 2g of fibre per cup but when stewed this can rise to 8g. If you eat dried plums as known as prunes, the figure rises even more to 12g.
Just remembering a few of these facts will help enormously. As time goes on, you will learn more and be able to provide yourself with a good diet without even thinking about it.
Different types of lentils
The several types of lentils that I keep at home are shown in the photo above.
Red lentils, in the centre of the front row, are the easiest to cook, typically in about 15 minutes. They vary in colour from the coral shown, sometimes lighter and occasionally more reddish. They lose their shape when cooked and will turn very soupy.
The green lentils, extreme right, are popular in Europe. They hold their shape well and therefore very suitable for salads.They are the longest to cook though and can take about 45 minutes.
All the rest are varying shades of brown lentil. They, too, keep their shape to some extent, but cook more rapidly than the green lentils.
You can, if you look, find may more varieties than these. They come in all sorts of shades from yellow, through orange, to brown and black and green. Some have husks removed (the faster cooking ones), while others, that retain their shape, do not.
Canada is the main producer of lentils closely followed by India, which is also the main consumer,
Breakfast is Important
I find that if I concentrate on having a high fibre breakfast, all I need to do for the remainder of the day is to make sure I get the recommended five-a-day of fruit and vegetables, and that provides me with as much fibre as I need.
For my breakfast I have a tablespoonful of oat bran, three or four prunes or dried apricots, a tablespoonful of raisins, sultanas or cranberries (a recent favourite), a spoonful of chopped nuts, a handful of blueberries or raspberries or diced fruit, all mixed with a fat free yoghurt. I love it! Sometimes I'll add a mix of wheat bran and porridge oats, or a spoonful of ready made muesli. It's so easy to mix and match and ring the changes that it's never boring.
Dahl - easy and versatile
Recipes variations for dahl
Dahl, daal, dal, or dhal, they are all spelling variations of the same thing, and there are even more variations in how to make a dahl recipe. There is one basic ingredient, though, and that is a single type or a combination of types of lentil.
Dahl is simplicity itself to make. Cook the lentils, add other ingredients to taste, serve with rice or bread (naan or pitta), and there you have it!
The photo above shows how I started with one of my versions.
- Cook lentils in water or a light stock, adding more water if necessary, to keep it a soupy consistency.
- Fry onions and a teaspoon or so each of ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric.
- Optional extra here is finely chopped or grated ginger.
- Add the cooked lentils, add salt and crushed chillies/whole chillies/cayenne pepper to taste.
- You can, if you wish, add chopped tomatoes and/or cooked squash.
- Another option is to add some coconut milk.
You can turn this into a tarka dahl by frying some (1-2 teaspoons of each) black mustard seeds and cumin seeds with finely chopped garlic. Put to one side. Now fry some sliced onions. Mix these together and pour over the finished dahl.
Serve the dish with some fresh coriander (cilantro) over the top, and enjoy a delicious high fibre meal! It can be served as a lunch dish or as side dish in a larger meal.
Fibre Rich Diets and Recipe Books
To get you started on a higher fibre way of life, it's a very good idea to invest in a cookbook or two. I find I can never have too many (but I'll admit I'm mildly addicted to cookbooks) because it does help you ring the changes. Of course you do also find the same dish repeated quite often but generally there will be variations so you can choose the recipe that you find easiest/tastiest. The F-Factor Diet I bought years ago and I believe it can't be bettered as far as giving all the background to high fibre as well as many recipes and menu plans.
Not only does this book help you include fibre in your daily diet, it also demonstrates how to produce some gastronomic dishes, equally rich in fibre. The recipes are vegetarian but will nevertheless suit everyone. It includes some very helpful charts of fibre content and calorific value.
Many years ago I bought what was an early version of this book. It was my first introduction to a high fibre diet and I found it suited me very well indeed. I still follow many of the ideas and recipes included in it.
Ultimately, a high fibre diet will leave you feeling more energetic, less hungry and so help you lose weight if that's what you want. It will improve your digestive system, lower cholesterol, help protect your heart and guard against colon cancer. At least give it a try. I bet if you do, you won't want to return to bland and processed food again.
The Fibre Factor
This is a very long video and takes several minutes to get going, however I think it's a very good lecture.
© 2013 SheilaMilne