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Weighty matters

Experiments reveal that subjects fed sugary fibre-free drinks had higher fat deposits as compared to those who were given the food in its natural form, writes Dr Anjali Mukerjee.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 09, 2009 21:00 IST

A healthy body is one of the casualties of modern day life. The deteriorating environment, our over-indulgence of unhealthy foods and the fast pace of our lives take a toll on our health. One of the commonest denominators of health is body weight. Chances of falling prey to disease are higher if one is overweight or obese, so it’s important to maintain ideal body weight.

It is common knowledge that a gamut of nutrients —ranging from fats and proteins to minerals and vitamins — affect our body weight. Of these, the advantages of fibre have not been discussed much. It plays an important role in controlling body weight apart from being the only constituent of our diet besides water that has zero calories. Fibre is that part of food which is not digested by the body, but is nevertheless essential for maintaining good health. Refined foods like chips, white bread, white rice, pizzas, burgers, fruit juices, and pastries may appeal more to our taste buds than whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole fruits, cakes made from whole wheat flour etc, but they lack fibre.

How does fibre help control weight?
Experiments have revealed that subjects fed sugary fibre-free drinks had higher fat deposits as compared to those who were given the food in its natural form —(with its fibre not removed during processing.)

Removing fibre from foods leads to easier conversion of food into fats, which get stored in fat cells and the blood. For instance, the calorific value of two slices of whole wheat bread is nearly the same as that of two slices of white bread. But white bread is more easily stored as fat in our body than whole wheat bread. The same is true of drinking the juice of two apples instead of eating two whole apples. In juice form, the fibre of the apples is removed which eventually leads to more fat storage.

Also, we tend to eat more food in the absence of fibre which too leads to weight gain. You feel full when you eat four oranges, but one glass of juice made from the same four fruits is not as filling. Similarly, jowar chapatis are more filling than wheat chapatis, which in turn are more filling than chapatis made out of maida. Brown rice is more filling than white rice.

So, the key to controlling weight lies in your food’s fibre content. A low fat and high fibre diet is the best sort. Fibre plays an important role in keeping your weight down because of its intrinsic ability to reduce your body’s absorption of fats and carbohydrates. When fat gets attached to the fibre inside your body, most of it is not digested and gets excreted.

It also makes you feel full
Another characteristic of fibre is the feeling of satiety it induces. Its water-retaining property make food seem filling. A reasonable quantity of fibre will fill your small and large intestines with watery material, giving you a feeling of fullness. This way, you stop overeating. Try it !

Fibre also influences hormone behaviour. It prevents low blood sugar which is responsible for the I-am-hungry-feed-me signals to the brain. Dietary fibre is essential for good health and weight control.
A low-calorie but fibre-rich diet reduces hunger and decreases absorption of fat, thus making you healthy and keeping your weight in check. So say yes to natural foods like whole grains, whole pulses, whole fruits and vegetables and watch the scales tip in your favour.

Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre