Family Health Magazine - NUTRITION
An important part of a healthy diet
Fibre is important to a healthy diet. It adds to the texture and shape of food, and helps bowels to work well. Research is showing more ways that fibre contributes to long-term health.
Kinds of dietary fibre
Dietary fibre is plant fibre that humans cannot digest. There are two main kinds of dietary fibre - insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fibre acts to draw water in as fibre passes through the lower intestine. Additional water in the intestine softens the bowel contents (stools) and helps eliminate waste. Sources of foods high in insoluble fibre include bran, whole wheat, and some fruits and vegetables. Be sure to increase your fluid intake when you increase your intake of fibre.
Soluble fibre forms a gel in the upper intestine. The gel binds to cholesterol and removes it from the system. It also slows the absorption of carbohydrate, and helps minimize the rise in blood glucose from food intake. Since soluble fibre helps people feel full and satisfied, eating it decreases appetite and can help with weight control. It is an excellent choice before exercise, and a healthy diet addition for those at risk of or who have diabetes, since glucose releases more slowly into the bloodstream.
Good sources of soluble fibre include dried beans and peas, lentils, oats, oatmeal, barley, bulgar, quinoa, wheat berries, and psyllium, as well as apples, oranges, and eggplant. However, most of these foods contain some of both fibre types (soluble and insoluble).
Why is fibre important?
There are a great many reasons to include fibre in your daily diet.
- It decreases the risk of heart disease. In a large United States Nurses Health Study, the risk of heart disease fell by about one-third as dietary fibre intake increased.
- It decreases the risk of diabetes. A recent Finnish study found that study participants with a diet rich in whole grains, which are high in fibre, were 35 per cent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
- It helps with weight control. Eating soluble fibre causes a feeling of fullness while it is being digested. This feeling can help with eating less.
- It contributes to bowel health. In a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health, women in the study with the highest intake of fibre were less likely to experience constipation (trouble moving the bowels).
- It boosts energy. In a recent study reported in Appetite, 139 people who started eating cereal with six to 12 grams of fibre daily felt more energetic than those who began eating a similar-looking low-fibre cereal.
- It adds variety. Switching to whole grains or adding more fruits and vegetables can increase flavour and provide interesting variety to routine meals.
Additional research in these areas will provide us with more information on the benefits of fibre.
Dietary Reference Intakes
This is a system of nutrient reference values used in Canada and the United States. It sets guidelines for adequate intake of fibre for adults.
Usual Canadian intake
The average Canadian gets less than 15 grams of fibre per day, leaving most of us with the challenge of increasing fibre intake.
Canadian labelling guidelines
The 2003 guidelines set the following food labelling criteria for fibre:
- A source of fibre – contains two grams or more
- A high source of fibre – contains four grams or more
- A very high source of fibre – contains six grams or more.
Reading food labels for fibre information can help you to increase your intake. Look for the claim on the front of the product label and note the number of grams of fibre per serving on the nutrition panel.
Ground flaxseed is associated with heart health and the prevention of stroke and cancer. The seeds are a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. They can also help ease the symptoms of menopause for some women. To get the health benefits of flax, it must be ground. You can purchase ground flax or grind it yourself in a coffee grinder. Once ground, flaxseed must be stored in the refrigerator. Try to eat one to two tablespoons (15 to 25 mL) of ground flaxseed each day. Easy ways include sprinkling ground flaxseed on your cereal, stirring it into yogurt, or adding it to muffin and cookie batter.
Tips for increasing your fibre intake
Look for the words ‘whole grain’ before the name of the grain on a food label. For instance whole grain barley or whole grain oats are good choices.
- Choose high fibre or whole grain muffins and crackers more often.
- Choose fruits or vegetables as snacks.
- Use whole grain or high fibre grains for baking.
- You can add high fibre products into your usual recipes or daily choices. For example, if you choose a lower fibre cereal, mix in some high fibre cereal or sprinkle your cereal with bran to increase both fibre and flavour. Add canned beans into soups and salads. Use a high fibre whole grain flour for baking, fruit crisps and making gravy.
- Add fibre gradually into your diet. Making an abrupt change can cause cramps and discomfort.
- Ensure that you are drinking more fluid as you increase your fibre intake. Fluid helps insoluble fibre act in your intestine.
Adding up the fibre
- Look for the highest percentage of whole grain, such as choosing 100 per cent whole grain rather than 60 per cent. Whole grain breads add about two grams of fibre per slice to your intake.
- Choose cereals with at least five grams of fibre per serving or sprinkle bran on a lower fibre choice.
- Include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables in your daily intake. When you can, eat the peel or skin too! Depending on what you choose, a serving of fruit or vegetables can add between two to nine grams of fibre. Berries and dried fruits are some of the higher fibre choices.
- Use beans and lentils often. There are between five and eight grams of fibre in a half cup serving. Many bean choices are available, including kidney, great northern, pinto, navy, or small white beans. Beans and lentils have many uses. They can provide protein for the meal, be included in a salad, or be part of a mixed dish like chilli.
Use these high fibre choices to get the recommended amount of fibre intake.
Fibre and flavour
Many people assume that high fibre diets are dry and bland. Not so! Give some of the new, improved high fibre products another chance - many have a rich nutty taste. Cookbook authors are including high fibre recipes that taste great. Try flax and oatmeal cookies, a pilaf made with quinoa, a risotto with barley, or a salad with wheat berries. Check out the wonderful selection of grains in the hot cereal or bulk sections of the grocery store. You will also find cold cereals made of whole grains such as kamut, amaranth and flax.
All-Bran™ Bran Buds™ is a cereal made by Kellogg’s™. This product contains both insoluble and soluble fibre with a whopping 19.5 grams of fibre in half of a cup. You can find Bran Buds™ in the cereal aisle of the grocery store.
Canada grows many high fibre foods
Many high fibre products are grown right here on the Canadian prairies. Growing conditions in Alberta are ideal for barley production. Whole grain barley is available in many grocery stores, bakeries and coffee shops. Barley can be eaten as flour in baked products, in soups or as a rice replacement. Oats are another Alberta crop that, as a whole grain, adds fibre and health benefits to your diet. Both oats and barley are being added to other foods due to their excellent fibre content.
Other healthy grains include rye, wheat (whole) and spelt, while lentils and beans also grow well here. Remember to include local vegetables, fruits and berries in your daily diet.
Think fibre the next time you shop for groceries. When making a choice, put the higher fibre product into your grocery cart. Eating high fibre foods consistently over time has the potential to provide you with great nutrition and taste.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physican promptly. Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [NU_FHa05]