Eating fruit, oats and beans: Simple but vital way to beat lifestyle diseases

87% of the population is not getting enough fibre, say two Joburg dietitians

13 May 2024 - 15:16 By TimesLive
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
A lack of dietary fibre can contribute towards abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, increased blood pressure and gastrointestinal disease. Stock photo.
A lack of dietary fibre can contribute towards abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, increased blood pressure and gastrointestinal disease. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF

While dietary fibre is key to good health, 87% of the population is not getting enough, two Johannesburg dietitians say.

Mariana Davel and Mbali Mapholi from Netcare Olivedale Hospital say a lack of dietary fibre can contribute to abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, increased blood pressure and gastrointestinal disease.

“A high-fibre diet may lower the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. It reduces cholesterol levels and inflammation and is crucial for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, which significantly affects overall health,” Mapholi said.

Most countries recommend an intake of about 25g to 35g per day for adults.

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods that cannot be fully digested by the small intestine and reaches the colon almost completely intact.

“It is essential for the body to help regulate bowel movement, maintain a desirable level of friendly bacteria in the colon and provide a source of fuel for the cells in the colon. Though it does not provide nutrients it is still an important part of your diet,” Davel said.

“Soluble fibre, when ingested, forms a gel-like substance in the stomach and modulates digestive processes, helps lower blood sugar levels and reduces cholesterol.”

Consuming 400 to 500g of fruit and vegetables combined with the right cereals and grains will make up the required fibre intake, the dietitians said, while cautioning that excess amounts of fibre can lead to mineral malabsorption (calcium, iron and zinc).

Davel said fruit is a good option. “The natural sweetness offers a healthier alternative to processed sugary foods, while their high water content assists in hydration. Pears, strawberries and bananas are particularly great fibre sources. Avocados, unusually high in fibre for fruit, also bring beneficial fats to the table. Including a variety of these fruits in your daily diet can ensure a balanced intake of nutritional fibre.”

Vegetables are another prime source of dietary fibre, contributing significantly to a healthier diet. “A low calorie and nutrient-dense option, they not only aid in digestion but also reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Including vegetables such as peas, broccoli, carrots and Brussels sprouts can ensure you get your daily required fibre intake. They’re also packed with vitamins, providing an all-around health boost.”

Mapholi said sweet potato is not only brimming with fibre but is also rich in vitamins such as vitamin A and minerals that contribute to health.

Legumes, which include beans, lentils and peas, are a powerhouse of fibre intake and also serve as a rich protein source — good news for those following plant-based diets.

“Consuming legumes can not only increase your dietary fibre but also offer multiple nutrients such as iron, potassium and folate,” said Mapholi.

The body will adapt to an increased fibre intake and the side effects will gradually disappear
Mbali Mapholi, dietitian

Beans, such as black, kidney, fava and lima, serve as a significant source of soluble and insoluble fibre, promoting good digestive health and helping maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Aside from being fibre-rich, they are also an excellent source of protein, making them particularly beneficial for vegetarians and vegans looking for alternative protein sources.

Grains are an excellent way to ensure a regular intake of dietary fibre while also providing essential nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and magnesium.

Whole grains, including oats, brown rice and quinoa are especially fibre-rich.

Nuts not only add fibre but offer a host of other nutrients, including healthy fats, proteins and vitamins and minerals, which contribute to wellbeing. “Almonds, pistachios and pecans are particularly high in fibre, but incorporate them into your meals in moderation as they’re high in calories,” said Davel.

Seeds, though tiny, add a fibre and nutritional punch. Packed with a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they bring a significant health boost and texture to any meal. Chia, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are the most fibre-rich options. Adding them to your smoothies, salads or yoghurt can effortlessly up your fibre intake.

High-fibre options for low-carb diets include vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, avocados, almonds and flax seeds.

Mapholi suggests a slow start to incorporate a higher-fibre diet. “Do it gradually to avoid possible side effects such as bloating and flatulence. First, increase the intake of whole wheat products such as bread and cereals. Then add fibrous fruit and vegetables, legumes and, if necessary, digestive or oat bran. The body will adapt to an increased fibre intake and the side effects will gradually disappear.”

Drinking at least six to eight cups of water daily also aids the digestive tract.

Tips:

  • include generous servings of vegetables and salads and aim for at least three servings of fresh fruit with skins and pips;
  • start the day with a bran-rich breakfast cereal or cooked porridge, such as oats;
  • try to include a fresh raw salad in at least one meal daily. Fresh sliced fruit can be added for additional flavour and fibre;
  • rather eat fruit than drink fruit juice;
  • eat regular balanced meals and high-fibre, low-GI snacks;
  • snack on homemade popcorn; and
  • read food labels. 

TimesLIVE


subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.