Fabulous fibre

Have you noticed how fibre has suddenly appeared in the news again? That’s food-related fibre, not the high-speed broad band type! A large meta-analysis of research studies published in The Lancet last week concluded that a diet high in complex fibre and whole-foods could prevent the development of many chronic health problems. It concluded their study provided a ‘causal link’ between a low fibre diet and poor health (read more here).

The world of food and health is complex and fickle. The fact that fibre is good for health has been known for a long time, but gets conveniently forgotten when more popular diets come along, like low-carb/high fat, or ketogenic programmes. There’s a lot of confusion about the carbohydrate element of foods with many people automatically associating ‘carbs’ with sugar. And it’s true, refined sugar isn’t good for us, but complex, unadulterated carbohydrates are.

As anyone who has participated in my Eat Well Live Well course will know, I’m a big fan of fibre. And one of the benefits of eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that it is packed full of lovely complex fibres that the body just loves. And rather than worrying about how much you should consume, it’s just part and parcel of every meal – as long as you eat a wide range of whole plant foods that is.

So why might you not get enough fibre in your diet?

  1. Only food from plants contain fibre, so if you eat mainly meat, dairy and eggs you’ll be missing out on fibre.
  2. Refined cereals and grains loose their healthy complex fibre, so if you eat white bread, pasta or rice, processed breakfast cereals or ready meals, you’ll be losing all the lovely complex fibre.
  3. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain fibre too, so if you don’t hit your 5 portions a day (like 70% of the UK population), you’ll be missing out on fibre.

So what does fibre do for us? Lots, as it turns out. I go into more details in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie (out next month!), but in a nutshell it:

  1. Improves gut motility – ie: make you poo!
  2. Removes excess bile, fats and toxic waste
  3. Fills you up
  4. Releases nutrients slowly
  5. Looks after the friendly bacteria living in your gut.

As more is learnt about the importance of gut health, this last one is really key. Bacteria living deep down in the large intestine dine out on the insoluble fibre found in complex carbohydrates that we can’t digest ourselves, and then puts it to good use, carrying out functions we have outsourced and can no longer do ourselves. Gut health is connected to many health challenges, including food sensitivities and autoimmune conditions, hence my personal love of all things fibre!

So how do you get more fibre in your diet? It’s easy – eat more plants! And a wide variety of them too. Add beans to soups and stews, more veggies to dishes. Ditch the processed breakfast cereals and opt for wholegrain or oats. Swap to wholegrain pasta, rice and bread. Or just focus on eating amazing plant foods throughout the day and then you don’t have to worry where your fibre is coming from.

A word of warning though, if you’re not used to eating lots of lovely fibre, or have IBS or something similar, take care! Fibre makes you fart. And if your gut is not happy, a sudden overload of high fibre foods could find you trumpeting at inappropriate moments or doubled up in pain. So think about gradually increasing the amount of whole foods over a few days rather than all at once – you, and anyone around you, will appreciate it!

If you’re not sure how to start eating more fibre, check out the recipes on my blog. Made with whole plant foods, they’re all packed with fibre in various forms. And if you’re interested in finding out more, my book is a good place to start. Look out for more information about publication date, or sign up to my book mailing list. You’ll get the lowdown before anyone else, plus special launch information and offers. Just click here.

Coconut water

I wrote an article earlier this year about tender coconut water, the fluid found in the immature green coconuts sold by the roadside, for our local expat associations magazine. The virtues of coconut water are being discovered in the West and there is much discussion about its value as a post-workout drink, so I thought I’d write about it again here.

Coconut sellers are dotted all round the city, and next to any road in South India; vibrant green, occasionally mottled, nuts either piled up high forming a little stall, displayed on a hand cart or hanging off the side of  an old, rusty bicycle.  Normal tap water is not really potable, so these coconuts provide a safer option to assuage the thirst of the passing traveller – the fluid inside the green coconut is sterile as long as the nut is not damaged and there are reports that it has been used as an intravenous fluid in cases of severe dehydration when sterile normal saline is not available. Not one to try at home though!

Harvested from trees in clusters when they are between 5-7 months old, these immature nuts contain between 200mls-1 litre of sweet, unctuous water that is highly refreshing on a hot summers day and incredibly nutritious and healthy, and possibly the secret to youthful skin!! The water is contained within a gel like flesh on the inner lining of the nut and tastes very different to the milk taken from the coconut meat (see Cocoloco). This is the endosperm of the nut and contains simple sugars fructose and glucose. These sugars change and become more complex as the nut matures, as does the flavour. Once fully matured, 90% of the sugar content is sucrose which gives it a much sweeter flavour and higher calorie content.

Coconut water though is very low in calories – only 19 calories per 100ml – and contains excellent amounts of potassium and good amounts of calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins along with an impressive array of amino acids, cytokines and other antioxidants. This is what makes coconut water such a great medium for rehydration, specifically the potassium content which helps the body to revitalise at cellular level. And probably why the sports and health foods industry are beginning to promote this as a wonder product – with a wonder price! Seeing a bottle of coconut water on sale in the UK back in the summer, I was stunned to see it carrying a price tag of £2.50 – they cost Rs 15 here (equal to 17p).

Coconut water is a fantastic fluid replacement drink post diarrhoea, and much tastier than those revolting rehydration salts. My poor husband has been so sick the last few days with a nasty case of ‘Bangalore belly’ and has managed to recover drinking glass after glass of chilled coconut water. Lemon juice can be added to increase the flavour – I have a friend who added fanta, but not sure that’s such a good thing (you know who you are!!).
Along with hydration, tender coconut water aids digestion (in Ayurveda it promotes Agni, digestive fire), its antiseptic properties kill intestinal worms, helps clear urinary tract problems, increases mental concentration, helps cleanse the liver and reduce jaundice and, apparently, is an aphrodisiac! So even with a hefty price tag, you can’t really lose!

But that’s not all! Tender coconut water is reported to be wonderful for the skin (as are other coconut products). It can help prevent prickly heat and reduces and soothes rashes from chicken pox, measles, sunburn and just general random itching. It’s light, cooling properties soothes and calms. This is particularly useful in general skin care. If you have oily skin, tender coconut water can be used as a skin cleanser. For all skin types, it can also be dabbed on the delicate skin areas underneath the eyes – it soothes puffiness and hydrates the skin thereby reducing wrinkles. I must say, I’ve not tested this yet, but will soon and eagerly await good results!

So if you ever get the chance to stop at a roadside coconut seller, you can either drink it there and then (watch out how clean the straw is though!) or get the vendor to prepare the nut for easy opening at home, unless you happen to have your own machete in the kitchen drawer that is! Once opened, coconut water starts losing it’s beneficial properties and if left more than 48 hours could turn bitter and unpalatable. I don’t know how the coconut water that ends up on the shelves far away from their origins is prepared and stored, but it probably has lost a fair amount of goodies and maybe flavour. When I finally return to the UK at the end of the year, I’ll give it a go and see how it compares. Maybe it will bring back some amazing memories!