You know that fibre is good for you and that you need more of it, but how much more? And why? Brooke Longfield untangles fibre for you.
How often do you sit down to a breakfast bowl of muesli or a few Weet-Bix? As you crunch into a piece of fresh fruit or sip a glass of juice, you give yourself a pat on the back for starting the day with a nourishing, fibre-rich morning meal. But do you have an equally fibre-packed plan for lunch?
As the day gets under way, this healthy focus on fibre can start to waver, probably because you’re confused about how much of the stuff to include in each meal. If so, you’re not alone — more than one in 10 Australians say they have no idea whether or not they’re consuming enough fibre.
As if confirming this confusion, our pharmacy shelves are groaning with fibre supplements and bowel-stimulating potions; they’re a testament to the fact that many of us aren’t getting the fibre we need from diet alone. Although the discomfort of constipation sends us in search of these products, a sluggish bowel isn’t the only side effect of a low-fibre diet — nor its most important. A growing body of evidence shows that a high fibre intake plays a key role in reducing your risks of developing colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
We should be consuming no less than 25 to 30g of fibre a day, according to national guidelines, but to enjoy the full benefit and reduce your long-term health risks, those numbers need to be higher: at least 28g for women and at least 38g for men.
Six (surprising) benefits of fibre
1. Slows digestion and absorption of food
Fibre can help lower a food’s glycaemic index (GI), and low-GI foods give you sustained energy. High-fibre, low-GI foods also keep you feeling full, making you less likely to overeat at your next meal.
2. Lowers ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol
Soluble fibre dissolves in water to form a gel that binds with cholesterol and cholesterol-like substances in the gut, preventing the body from absorbing harmful compounds. Find soluble fibre in oats, beans, lentils and berries.
3. Balances ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut bacteria
Prebiotics are natural types of fibre that stimulate the growth of probiotics such as bifidobacteria, ‘friendly’ bugs that research links to good health. Wheat, garlic and onion contain the prebiotic fibre inulin.
4. Ferments to produce short-chain fatty acids
Short-chain fatty acids keep the colon lining healthy by fuelling its cells and promoting blood flow. They also help the body absorb minerals, enhance fat and glucose metabolism in the liver, and have anti-diarrhoeal and anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Removes waste
Fibre absorbs toxins and creates bulk in the colon, thereby promoting the elimination of waste.
6. Speeds up transit time of waste
During digestion, any fibre that remains intact and passes into the large colon adds bulk to your stool. This bulk is healthy, as it speeds up waste’s transit time in your colon and prevents constipation.
Gluten free? Add fibre!
Today, nearly 20 per cent of Australians purchase gluten-free products. Unfortunately, some of these foods are much lower in fibre than their gluten-based counterparts.
If you’re among the 1 per cent of the population who’s living with coeliac disease, then you’re no doubt following a gluten-free diet. It’s essential to note that this restrictive diet rules out many staple high-fibre grains, such as wheat, oats and barley, so anyone who’s going gluten free needs to make an effort to add fibre-rich foods to their diet.
Fortunately, supermarkets now stock a growing range of fibre-rich, gluten-free options, such as wholegrain breads and wraps, multigrain cereals and high-fibre muesli bars. You’ll also find a plethora of naturally gluten-free, high-fibre grains, including quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat.
Get more fibre at every meal!
The foods listed on the PDF attached to this story (see Downloads below) will take your fibre intake to the max! Enjoy wholegrain foods three to four times a day and legumes (such as beans, chickpeas and lentils) two to three times a week. To hit your daily fibre target, aim for 30g of fibre and beyond.