Fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet and is the component found in plant foods that our body is unable to breakdown and digest. While fibre may not provide energy or macronutrients, it plays key role in optimizing health within the body and is found in a variety of nutritious foods (such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds).
There are 3 main types of fibre which can be found in food and they’re all important in their own regard (so it’s important to try to include a bit of each in your diet).
- Soluble fibre: absorbs water and forms a gel which helps to slow down the digestive process. It can be found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, psyllium and some fruits and vegetables
- Insoluble fibre: passes through the digestive system and adds bulk to stools, allows stools to pass through more quickly, prevents constipation and helps to keep the good gut bacteria happy. It is found in the skins of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, wheat bran, nuts and seeds
- Resistant starch: is the undigestible part in carbohydrate foods that feeds the good bacteria in the large intestine. Resistant starch is particularly important for bowel health as it feeds the good bacteria which in turn produce short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are important in protecting against bowel cancer. Resistant starch can be found in green bananas, unprocessed grains, and cooked and cooled potatoes and rice (like a potato or rice salad)
If you’re looking to improve your diet, a simple place to start is to look at increasing your daily fibre intake. If you’re wondering why, keep on reading…
- Improve the health of your digestive system – Fibre plays an important role in feeding the gut bacteria that live in the large intestine and helps to keep them healthy and happy. Fibre acts as a prebiotic and feeds the good bacteria which in turn produce compounds that are beneficial to health. If you’re not getting enough fibre, then your poor good gut bacteria aren’t getting enough either (and no one wants hangry microbiome).
- Role in assisting with weight management – Fibrous foods are a great addition to any meal as fibre rich foods tend to be lower in energy (kilojoules/calories) and add plenty of volume to your plate. High fibre foods also make meals more satisfying as they delay emptying of the stomach and allow food to slowly be digested. This means you often feel fuller for longer when eating high fibre foods.
- Improved management of blood sugar levels – A high fibre diet helps to decrease the rate of glucose absorption in the small intestine which will help to prevent rapid blood glucose spikes and maintain blood sugar levels.
- Helps to keep everything moving and prevents constipation – Fibre adds bulk to your bowel movements, increases transit time and allows bowel movements to pass through the digestive system more easily without straining. Fibre also grabs onto toxins and other waste products along the way to help clean you out.
- Reduce risk of disease – High fibre diets can help prevent diseases such as bowel cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For heart health, soluble fibre is particularly important for managing cholesterol levels as it grabs excess cholesterol in the blood and assists with its removal. Resistant starch is important for preventing bowel cancer as it helps keep everything moving and is needed in the production of short chain fatty acids.
So How much Fibre Do You Need?
For an adult, aim for 25-30g of fibre each day (at least 18g for kids) and if you aren’t meeting that target yet, start slow and gradually add more over a few days (or weeks). Some simple ways to add more fibre to your everyday eating include:
- Choose wholegrains like brown rice, freekeh, quinoa, oats and amaranth as well as wholemeal products like wholemeal pasta, brown rice noodles and wholegrain bread
- Keep the skins on fruits and vegetables when you eat them
- Snack on fresh/whole fruits and vegetables instead of juice as juicing removes the fibre. And don’t forget that nuts are a great high fibre snack too!
- Add legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans) and veggies to your soups and stews to boost the fibre (and flavour) content of meals
Don’t forget! Fibre absorbs fluids so don’t forget to drink plenty of water too.