One of our most unhealthy collective eating habits in the West is not having enough fibre in our diets. A diet high in fibre is associated with numerous health benefits, including a decreased risk of heart disease and early death.
You might worry that boosting your intake of fibre through whole foods, including fruit, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains, means having to sacrifice some of your favourite foods. But in recent years, manufacturers have introduced higher fibre alternatives to many of our traditionally low-fibre staples – including pastas, crisps, breakfast cereals and cereal bars. But are they any better than the foods they replace?
It’s generally accepted that people should be eating more legumes, including pulses such as lentils and chickpeas, because we don’t eat enough fibre. Pulses can help reduce the risk of certain diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, because we digest them more slowly than other foods, which keeps our blood glucose levels more consistent.
“When you eat a potato, you get a big rise in blood sugar, but legumes have a much lower glycaemic index and insulinemic response,” says Peter Ellis, professor of carbohydrate biochemistry at King’s College London.
Pulses are also packed with nutrients, and low in fat – although they don’t have what researchers call a “complete protein profile”. This means that their protein value is lower compared to meat or eggs because they don’t contain all the amino acids our body needs. For this reason, experts recommend pairing pulses with wheat, such as pasta.
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Another way manufacturers are giving pasta a fibre boost is by replacing some of the flour they traditionally use – usually wheat flour – with flour made from fibre-rich alternatives, including lentils, chickpeas and fava beans.
In 2020, Sophie Saget, a researcher at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, analysed and compared the nutritional content of pasta made partly with chickpea flour with traditional pasta made with durum wheat flour. She found that the chickpea pasta contained 1.5 times more protein, 3.2 times more fibre and eight times more essential fatty acids.