The facts on fibre
Fibre is an essential component of a healthy diet, but more than 80% of Aussies aren’t getting enough of it.
Dietitian for Lite n’ Easy Ashleigh Jones explains why fibre is worth getting excited about and gives her tips for getting more fibre into your diet every day.
In a world where people are obsessed with protein supplements and cutting out carbs, poor old fibre is often forgotten! But if you’re serious about improving your health, particularly your gut health, you really need to make fibre your friend.
What is fibre?
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the human body. Instead of being broken down in the stomach and small intestine, it continues on its way to the large intestine, where it becomes fuel for our healthy gut bacteria, aka our gut microbiome. This where the magic happens! Our wonderful gut bacteria can breakdown the fibre we have given them and convert it into a range of by-products that are important for our health.
What are the health benefits of fibre?
There are two main types of fibre – soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. They are found in different foods and have various benefits.
Soluble fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as barley and oats, and legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and black beans. Its superpower is slowing the passage of food from your stomach to your intestine. This is a good thing – it means you stay fuller for longer, which helps with weight loss, and your blood sugar levels are more stable, which reduces your risk of diabetes. Soluble fibre also helps to lower your blood cholesterol levels, which is good news for your heart health.
Insoluble fibre is found in whole grain wheat, brown rice, nuts, seeds, wheat bran and the skin of fruits and vegetables (so stop peeling those carrots!). Like soluble fibre, it will help you stay full and can improve blood sugar levels, but it has the added benefit of attracting water into your large intestine. This makes your time in the bathroom much more pleasant, as it softens the stool and makes it easier to pass. It also helps promote regular toilet habits.
Getting enough fibre in your diet makes it easier for you to stay in a healthy weight range while preventing diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. There is also increasing evidence that getting enough fibre is important for preventing illness such as depression, as fibre feeds our gut bacteria, and our gut bacteria play an essential role in our mental health. Is there anything fibre can’t do?!
How much fibre do we need?
To reduce your risk of heart disease and bowel cancer, women need to consume at least 28g of fibre each day, and 38g for men. The average Australian is eating well below this amount, with intakes around only 20g of fibre per day. This is nowhere near enough to maintain a healthy gut microbiome!
How can I increase my fibre intake?
The good news is that increasing your fibre intake is easy once you know how. Foods that are rich in fibre have the benefit of being delicious and cost-effective, so really there are no excuses not to make fibre your friend! But if you’re new to the fibre game, increase your intake gradually, as ramping things up too quickly can lead to some short term gas and bloating. If this does happen to you, just back things off a little bit until you gut has time to adjust to your new, healthy lifestyle.
Here are some simple steps you can take to increase your fibre intake:
- Choose whole grain breakfast cereals such as bran, porridge, oats, Swiss style muesli and whole wheat cereal.
- Avoid white bread and instead opt for wholemeal, rye or multigrain breads. The more seeds and grains, the better!
- Most fruits, except bananas, melons and citrus fruits, can be eaten with the skin on, so give them a go, just wash them first! Pears, apples and even kiwi fruit can be enjoyed with the skin on.
- Make sure that half your plate is vegetables at dinner time and choose a variety to keep things interesting and increase your nutrient intake.
- Snack on fruit, vegetable sticks, nuts or wholemeal crackers during the day.
- Try adding legumes to more of your meals. Baked beans on grainy toast are great for breakfast and throw a drained tin of chickpeas in the food processor with a couple of spoonfuls of tahini for tasty homemade hommus. You can make a burrito bowl at home with lots of veggies, rice and some drained, canned black beans. Or try throwing a handful of red lentils into your bolognaise sauce while it’s simmering on the stove – even the fussiest eater won’t know they’re there!
Lite n’ Easy meals are perfectly portioned and nutritionally balanced to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. In an average week of Lite n’ Easy meals, you can expect a great variety of fibre, as well as great volume of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds for a healthy gut.
Ashleigh Jones is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with extensive dietetics experience working across hospitals, corporate health, private practice and the food industry. A published researcher, she has collaborated actively across several disciplines including genetics, multiple sclerosis and sports nutrition. Ashleigh specialises in endocrine disorders with particular interest in weight management, pituitary and thyroid disorders, and management of diabetes. Ashleigh is passionate about promoting healthy habits, especially for busy people and offers simple and sustainable nutrition solutions.