Dietitian for Lite n’ Easy Sarah Cinar explains why fibre is worth getting excited about and gives her tips for getting more fibre into your diet every day.
Dietary fibre is the edible part of plants that is not digested or absorbed in the small bowel. It is usually completely or partially fermented (broken down) by bacteria in the large bowel. These bacteria make up our microbiome.
There are three different types of fibre: soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch, each type plays an important role in our digestive health.
Eating enough fibre in your diet is essential for the proper functioning of the digestive system. Evidence shows that having adequate fibre has countless health benefits and reduces the risk of a number of chronic diseases such as heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. Here are some of the main reasons for getting enough fibre each day:
Keeps your bowel movements regular
Encourages a healthy gut microbiota
Lowers cholesterol, especially if you eat soluble fibre
Controls blood glucose levels (blood sugar)
Assists with maintaining healthy body weight by keeping you fuller for longer
The National Health Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has provided us with two different fibre intake targets:
There is the ‘adequate intake’ level which recommends 25g/day for women and 30g/day for men. This is the amount of fibre that keeps things moving and ensures that we are having regular and comfortable bowel movements.
There is also a ‘suggested dietary target’, which is slightly higher, and is the amount of daily fibre intake that is associated with reducing overall chronic health disease risk. The suggested dietary target is 28g/day for women and 38g/day for men.
Simple swaps can make a very big difference when you are trying to increase your fibre intake. Here are a few practical tips to start:
Aim for two pieces of fruit and five servings of vegetables each day
Choose wholegrain, wholemeal and/or high-fibre varieties of grain-based foods like bread and pasta.
Enjoy a variety of whole grains, such as rice, oats, quinoa, barley, millet, polenta and buckwheat.
Add nuts and seeds to salads or as a snack
Another key part of getting enough fibre for good gut health is by enjoying a wide variety of plant foods. Plant foods contain a mix of different fibres so eating a range of different foods will ensure that you get the fantastic benefits of a diet rich in fibre.
Choosing whole foods rather than fibre supplements is a better option because these supplements don’t provide the variety of fibres, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other beneficial nutrients that foods do. Some people may still need a fibre supplement if dietary changes aren’t enough or if they have certain medical conditions, such as constipation, diarrhoea or irritable bowel syndrome. It is always important to check with your doctor or Accredited Practising Dietitian before taking fibre supplements.
Products including cereals or muesli bars may have added fibres such as inulin or chicory root to boost the amount of fibre. This is a great, easy way to get some extra fibre in your diet, but people with particularly sensitive guts may experience digestive symptoms such as bloating or feeling gassy after consuming these fibres. The good news is that if you’re sensitive to these fibres they are often easily avoided as they will be labelled on the product as inulin, chicory root or fructooligosaccharide (FOS).
When increasing your fibre intake, it is best to do it gradually as sudden increases may lead to some digestive discomfort such as bloating, flatulence and stomach cramps. A good way to see how your body is adjusting to the increased fibre is by monitoring your bowel movements. It will take some time for your body to adjust so be patient and drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is equally as important as fibre works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky and helping to move all the good stuff through your gut.