What is dietary fibre?
Fibre intake is an ongoing subject among many of us. We don’t eat enough, we eat too much, it constipates us, and it makes us go. It’s hard to get the facts straight when it comes to fibre. The bottom line: fibre is essential, and knowing which foods provide high amounts of fibre can lead to overall good health.
First off, in case you didn’t know, fibre is the roughage found in plant-based foods. Our bodies cannot break down fibre, which may have you wondering why it’s so good for us. Remarkably, its indigestible qualities are exactly what make it healthy.
When dietary fibre is consumed it is not digested, so when it passes through our system, it allows bowel movements to easily be released, flushing out hazards like bad cholesterol.
There are two different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre can dissolve in water and helps to maintain blood sugar and reduce cholesterol. Some soluble sources of fibre are barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and remains bulky. This type of fibre works best to prevent constipation. Some insoluble sources of fibre are whole grains, wheat cereals, and vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes.
Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre
The type of fibre you consume determines how fibre will benefit you. Here are some health benefits of fibre.
Digestion: Fibre has the ability to bulk-up stool, which can normalize bowel movements. This is beneficial for both preventing and relieving constipation and diarrhea. Consumption of fibre can reduce a person’s risk of digestive health issues like inflammation of the intestines, lower gastric acid, and reduce gallstones.
Heart: While mainly true of soluble fibre, all fibre can aid in the prevention of heart disease as it works to diminish bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and help you lose weight—all contributing factors for heart disease.
Diabetes: A high-fibre diet from insoluble sources can lower a person’s risk of type-2 diabetes. If you have diabetes, consuming a diet high in soluble fibre can help manage blood sugar levels and minimize the absorption of sugar.
Skin: Fibre works beyond digestion and can even benefit the skin. Acne is caused by yeast and fungus excreting through the skin. Fibre works to flush toxins out so they don’t become visible markings on your body.
Lowers cholesterol: Soluble fibre may help to lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre can be found in beans, flaxseed, and oat bran. Research has also shown a link between high-fibre foods and other heart-health benefits such as reducing inflammation and blood pressure.
Weight loss: Fibre can aid in achieving healthy weight by helping you eat less. As high-fibre foods tend to be more filling than low fibre foods, you are more likely to stay satisfied longer if you include more in your diet. High-fibre foods also tend to take longer to eat and are less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
Reduce risk of cancer: Research shows that fibre boasts impressive anti-cancer effects. It has been found that for every 10 grams of fibre consumed, it is associated with a 10 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer and a five percent fall in breast cancer risk. In addition to these anti-cancer effects, foods that contain high amounts of fibre, like fruits and vegetables, also contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that could further reduce your odds.
Stronger bones: As we age, especially women can suffer from decreased bone density. This makes bone become brittle and able to easily break. Some forms of soluble fibre-dubbed “prebiotics,” found in asparagus, soybeans, and leeks, have been shown to increase the bioavailability of minerals in the foods you eat. This can help to maintain bone density.
Top Fibre Rich Foods
Below is a list of fibre rich foods taken from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, 2012. The * refers to changes in fibre content based on different brands.
|Total fiber (grams)*
|Pear, with skin
|Apple, with skin
|1 ounce (60 raisins)
|Grains, cereal & pasta
|Total fiber (grams)*
|Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked
|Barley, pearled, cooked
|Oat bran muffin
|Oatmeal, instant, cooked
|Brown rice, cooked
|Bread, whole-wheat or multigrain
|Legumes, nuts and seeds
|Total fiber (grams)*
|Split peas, cooked
|Black beans, cooked
|Lima beans, cooked
|Baked beans, vegetarian, canned, cooked
|Sunflower seed kernels
|1 ounce (23 nuts)
|1 ounce (49 nuts)
|1 ounce (19 halves)
|Total fiber (grams)*
|Green peas, cooked
|Turnip greens, boiled
|Brussels sprouts, cooked
|Sweet corn, cooked
|Potato, with skin, baked
Tips for Adding Fibre to Your Diet
Start your day with fibre: Breakfast is the perfect place to boost your fibre intake. By simply switching your choice of cereal in the mornings to one that has more fibre, you can add up to an extra 10 grams each morning. If fibre cereals are not your taste, try adding a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favourite cereal.
Adding fruits into your breakfast is also a great way to get some extra fibre. Berries are high in fibre, so try adding fresh blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries to your morning cereal or yogurt.
Eat more brown rice and whole grains: Ditch your white bread, rice, and pasta, and opt for a healthier replacement of brown rice and whole grain products. Add some new high-fibre foods into your diet such as barley, wild rice, bulgur, and whole-wheat pasta. You may try something new and find that you love the taste!
Add Flaxseed: These small brown seeds are not only high in fibre, but they also contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids which can lower your total blood cholesterol. Just be sure to grind the seeds before eating them as they cannot break down and get the nutrients otherwise during digestion.
Snack on fruits and vegetables: Keep fresh fruit and vegetables at your fingertips but washing and cutting them ahead of time and keeping them in the refrigerator for quick and healthy snacks.
Eat whole fruits: While fruit juice may be tasty, you will get more fibre and consume fewer calories if you just eat the whole fruit. For example, an 8oz. glass of orange juice contains almost no fibre and about 110 calories. In comparison, one medium fresh orange contains about 3g of fibre and only 60 calories.
Incorporate veggies: Consuming more vegetables is an easy way to get more fibre into your diet. Keep frozen veggies on hand to add into soups and sauces and use fresh vegetables for side dishes.
Don’t forget legumes: People often overlook legumes as a high form of fibre. But adding kidney beans, peas, or lentils to soups or salads can pack a punch of fibre to your meal.
Fibre has many sources – both soluble and insoluble. We should be consuming fibre on a regular basis; unfortunately, with the typical American diet, many of us don’t get the adequate amount. By adding fibre rich foods into your diet, you can begin to feel better and become healthier.
However, it’s important to note that fibre does affect people differently. Sometimes, depending on medical conditions, insoluble fibre can cause abdominal pain and bloating. Often drinking enough water can combat this. If you notice that insoluble fibre doesn’t sit well with you, depending on the food item, removing the skin can make it easier to digest.
If you keep these tips in mind you can enjoy fibre and be a healthier you.