Dietary fibre or cellulose is a close cousin of carbohydrates. Two characteristics are common to members of the fibre family — one, they occur only in plant foods and two, they cannot be digested by the juices in our stomach or intestines. However, certain types of fibre can be digested (rather, fermented) by germs that reside in our large intestine. Fermentation is associated with production of gases, which announce their departure from the body as flatus. Besides embarrassing us as the source of unwanted noise and odour, what else does fibre do? Since fibre is not digested, it doesn’t contribute to energy intake. But still we need fibre, and lots of it. Refined foods such as white rice and refined wheat flour or maida have contributed to the emergence of the diseases of modern civilization — piles, varicose veins, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and intestinal cancer.
Why do we need fibre?
Since fibre does not get digested, it is passed on from the stomach to the small intestine and from the small to the large intestine. One of the properties of fibre is that it soaks water, swells up and forms a viscous mass. The mass adds bulk to the contents of the large intestine and does not let them become dry or hard. That is how fibre prevents constipation. Fibre not only facilitates frequent passage of stool, it also makes stool soft. Constipation is not just a minor inconvenience. Chronic constipation is the mother of piles and varicose veins. Isapghula husk (isabgol) is a concentrated source of fibre. If you soak a spoon of isabgol in water for a few minutes, it grows in volume and forming a viscous gel. That is how isabgol treats constipation.
Besides preventing constipation, fibre is has important metabolic consequences. It improves glucose tolerance and reduces blood cholesterol. This makes it important for prevention and management of diabetes and heart disease.
Sources of fibre
Fibre is found in unrefined grains, fruits and vegetables. To get enough fibre, consume grains which have their husk (seed coat) intact. Coarse grains, such as barley (jau), oat and buckwheat (kuttoo) are also good sources.
Extract from Eating Wisely and Well by Ramesh Bijlani