There was a stage where just about everyone I knew was either muttering the words; “no carbs” or at least avoiding the very thought of bread with a barge-pole in an attempt to shed a few kilos.
We often get questions about the amount of carbs in legumes, and many people are actually deterred from eating beans because they have been told low-carb is the way to weight loss. It is important to understand, as with many things in food – not all carbs are created equal, and that most of the carbs in legumes are made up of resistant starch and fibre.
Recent studies actually show that that regularly eating legumes leads to long term, sustainable weight loss and more importantly significant health benefits.
Confused? Let’s fix that, shall we?
You see, it all comes down to fibre. Fibre, fibre, oh glorious fibre! What most people don’t realise is that fibre is actually a form of carbohydrate.
So what’s the deal with roughage, let’s break it down (Or not)
FACT: No fibre is digested by the small intestine. All of it arrives into the colon unchanged.
Once upon a time there was fibre:
Before farming occurred and animals were domesticated, our ancestors wandered around, eating berries, fruits, root vegetables and any plant that promised to have some nutrition. The diet contained 50-100 grams of fibre a day, all of it from plant material. Interestingly, one of the best-studied prebiotics fibres, inulin, has been found in over 36,000 plants, so these people were eating a lot of this beneficial fibre.
Then came villages with farming, growing grains, and raising livestock. Fibre intake gradually diminished. Furthermore, in Westernized countries, fibre was removed from the grains as it was felt to be useless. We were left with white bread without fibre and many of the minerals and vitamins removed. The food industries also began boxing and packaging food products in ways that required further changes to basic foods. Many substances were added to prolong shelf life and enhance taste but they did not contribute to health as far as we knew. High fructose corn syrup was found to be as sweet as sugar and replaced it in many drinks and foods, as it was much cheaper. This corn derivative and other sweeteners were used in many products and have resulted in or are associated with the epidemic of obesity we now see in our society. Food fibre was sidelined as an important factor in the diet.
Soluble and Insoluble Fibre: What’s the Difference?
Fibre does way more than just keep you regular. The rough stuff can also help lower cholesterol, keep your blood sugar stable, make it easier to lose weight, and even help keep you alive longer.
To get all those benefits, there are two types of fibre that your body needs: soluble and insoluble. Both come from plants and are forms of carbohydrates. But unlike other carbs, fibre can’t be broken down and absorbed by your digestive system. Instead, as it moves through your body it slows digestion and makes your stools softer and easier to pass.
Most foods contain both insoluble and soluble fibre but are usually richer in one type than the other. The easiest way to tell them apart: Soluble fibre absorbs water, turning into a gel-like mush (think of what happens when you add water to oatmeal) while insoluble fibre doesn’t (think of what happens when you add water to celery).
Almost all plant food, which is where fibre comes from, will have some of each but in different proportions. For instance, wheat is about 90% insoluble fibre. Oats are 50/50 and the psyllium plant is mostly soluble fibre
Soluble fibre is a prebiotic, it dissolves in water and is fermented by the colon’s microorganisms or bacteria. Your probiotics love the stuff! Healthy gut, healthy life.
Foods rich in this type of fibre include oatmeal, nuts, legumes, apples, and blueberries.
The health benefits include:
Heart protection: Inside your digestive system, soluble fibre attaches to cholesterol particles and takes them out of the body, helping to reduce overall cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Oatmeal may offer the most heart protection.
Diabetes protection: Because soluble fibre isn’t well absorbed, it doesn’t contribute to the blood sugar spikes that can put you at risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. If you already have diabetes (either type 1 or type 2) soluble fibre can even help keep your condition under control.
Weight loss: Soluble fibre can also help you get to — or stay at — a healthy weight by keeping you feeling full without adding many calories to your diet.
Healthy bowel movements: Soluble fibre soaks up water as it passes through your system, which helps bulk up your stool and guard against constipation and diarrhea. In fact, most fibre supplements contain mostly soluble fibre. How much more delicious to get it from food?!.
This is found in the seeds and skins of fruit (so always eat your peels) as well as whole-wheat bread and brown rice.
The health benefits include:
Weight loss: Like soluble fibre, insoluble fibre can play a key role in controlling weight by staving off hunger pangs.
Digestive health: Eating lots of insoluble fibre also helps keeps you regular, and if you do get constipated, adding more of it to your diet can get things moving. Insoluble fibre can also improve bowel-related health problems, like constipation, haemorrhoids, and well, many more.
Cutting out carbs is probably not the best idea if you want to be healthy. We need to eat a balanced diet of mostly plants, all macronutrients and plenty of fibre.
For further reading on “what is fibre” visit: Health Ambition