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“Fibre is good for you” – that is a message healthy eating experts have been trying to get across for decades.Getty Images/iStockphoto

"Fibre is good for you" – that is a message healthy eating experts have been trying to get across for decades.

But behind this seemingly simple nugget of wisdom are layers of complexity and real-life challenges. For one – different types of dietary fibre have varying benefits, and many of these distinctions aren't commonly known. Then there's the fact that eating fibre-laden foods in sufficient quantities to achieve a health benefit isn't always practical or enjoyable.

"All fibre is not created equal," says Michael Lyon, an adjunct professor in the Food, Nutrition and Health Program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), who has spent many years researching viscous soluble fibre.

"Insoluble fibre, such as wheat bran cereal, promotes regularity and is important for colon health," Dr. Lyon says. "The fibre that is important for cardiovascular health, regulation of appetite and blood sugar, and promotion of weight loss is soluble fibre, which is most beneficial when it is highly viscous – forming a thick gel inside the stomach."

Viscous soluble fibre stabilizes blood sugar and promotes "satiety" – that feeling of being full and satisfied. "Eating two or three bowls of oat bran cereal a day or three tablespoons of psyllium-husk powder with every meal would deliver high viscosity, but it's impractical to expect people to consume such quantities over a prolonged period," he explains.

Through research supported by UBC, Dr. Lyon and his colleagues developed a new soluble fibre compound, which thickens in the stomach a few minutes after it is ingested in capsule or powder form.

"We were trying to find a way to 'sneak' this viscous fibre into people's diets so they could sustain its use, for example, when trying to lose weight," he says. "In clinical trials, we showed the fibre substantially offset hunger and promoted satiety for much longer periods."

These findings set the stage for incorporating the fibre into a clinical weight-management program funded by the B.C. government. Patients take the fibre while on a calorie-controlled diet, and it has successfully helped many lose significant weight and keep the pounds off. The fibre's blood sugar stabilization also holds promise related to prevention of diabetes and heart disease.