You’ve probably heard it before – eat more fibre! When we think about dietary fibre, we likely picture our grandma’s dry muffins or bland cereal. It’s usually not a topic that brings much excitement, but I’m here to challenge that!
Humans have been eating fibre-rich foods since our prehistoric days when we thrived on roots, tubers, fruits and seeds. These high-fibre foods helped our gut host a variety of good bacteria that helped our overall health, and still do.
Over time, our society has switched from home-cooked meals to more quick and convenient foods. In 2016, 54% of Canadians were eating take-out food at least once a week. This has drastically decreased our fibre intakes since this way of eating generally lacks fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
In this article, we’re going to explore what dietary fibre is, why we should be eating more and easy tips to sneak it into your eating.
About dietary fibre
Before getting right in to where fibre is found and how to eat more, it’s helpful to understand why you should pay more attention to it!
Soluble fibre vs insoluble fibre
Let’s start with the 2 types of dietary fibre – soluble and insoluble which each help our health in different ways.
- Soluble fibre dissolves in water and creates a gel. This is the fibre that cleans up things like cholesterol from our blood, helps to control blood sugar levels and holds water in stool, helping it pass more easily.
- Insoluble fibre does not dissolve. Also known as roughage or bulk, insoluble fibre is the part of the plant that adds structure and is not digested by humans. It stays within our intestines and adds bulk to stool, helping to move it through the gut more regularly, decreasing constipation.
It’s important to get both soluble and insoluble fibre as they both help your overall health. Since they’re often found in many of the same foods, focusing on increasing your overall dietary fibre intakes is a good first place to start.
What’s the big deal with dietary fibre?
While this question could have a whole book written about it, there are a few key roles to discuss.
Fibre has been researched for centuries, most recently about how it affects the bacteria in our gut. Fibre, also referred to as prebiotics, acts as food for the good bacteria. On the other hand, foods with less fibre and more refined sugars feeds the bad (less helpful) bacteria, leaving us feeling bloated and sluggish.
How does dietary fibre feed the good bacteria? When fibre breaks down it creates byproducts that benefit our health by strengthening immune functions and reducing inflammation. Everything from mental health to weight to heart disease (to other areas of health) can be affected by the health of the bacteria in your gut. So feeding them well is something to care about!
Many studies show that people who eat high-fibre diets have lower inflammation in their body. This is important since inflammation is linked to the development of many chronic diseases and cancers … something we’ll talk more about in a bit.
5 Benefits of eating more dietary fibre
Let’s break it down even further and talk about exactly why eating more fibre can greatly benefit your health.
1. Lower cholesterol
Fibre can help to lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels by trapping it from the blood and carrying it out of the body. Having lower LDL cholesterol can lower the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. You can read more about this in another article, What is the best diet for Heart Health.
2. Control blood sugars
Fibre makes sugar go more slowly into our bloodstream. This helps blood sugar levels remain more stable which is important for people with (or without) prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. When sugar enters the bloodstream slowly, energy and appetite levels are are also more stable. When blood sugars are controlled, you’ll feel more satisfied through the day leaving you with fewer cravings.
3. Decrease risk of cancer and chronic disease development
As already mentioned, fibre has been seen in various studies to help decrease inflammation. Inflammation is known to play a role in developing various cancers, heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and gout. While other factors also play a role in these conditions, eating a higher-fibre diet and decreasing inflammation can, in part, lower your risks.
4. Appetite control
Fibre-rich foods are more filling (while having less calories in general) and leave us feeling full quicker and for longer which helps control our appetite. As we’ve learned already, fibre helps control blood sugars which lowers cravings, meaning you’re less likely to be nibbling on snacks.
5. Regular bowel movements
Since insoluble fibre cannot be digested, it adds bulk to our stool and helps to push things along, lowering constipation. Opposite to what you may have heard, fibre is also helpful for people with diarrhea as it thickens and bulks up loose stool.
How much fibre do I need and where can I find it?
The Canadian recommendations for fibre range between 21-25g a day for women and 30-38g a day of fibre for men. To put that into perspective, ½ cup lentils gives you 8g of fibre, 2 slices of whole wheat bread gives you 4g of fibre and 1 apple gives you 4g of fibre.
The best way to know that you’re getting enough fibre is to read food labels. Look for packages that say “high in fibre” or nutrition labels with 3g or more of fibre per serving.
Dietary fibre is found in many common foods, most of which are good for our health. Since fibre can be found in a variety of foods, it’s pretty easy to find tasty options to sneak into every snack or meal.
Both soluble and insoluble fibre are found in minimally processed plant-based foods such as oats, brown rice, psyllium husk, beans, chickpeas, lentils, fruits, vegetables, nuts, chia seeds and flax seeds. Fibre can also be found in health-products such as Benefibre or Metamucil.
As already mentioned, processed and highly-processed foods such as fast foods or foods made of refined carbs have little to no fibre left in them. However, fibre is increasingly being added to other grocery products, such as Smartsweets (a high fibre candy) and cookies for example. Again, the best way to know if you’re choosing a higher fibre product is to look at the food label.
11 easy ways to get more dietary fibre
Including a variety of fibre-rich foods at every meal and snack is the best way to be sure you’re getting enough each day. Here are 11 easy tips to sneak more fibre into your meals and snacks:
- Blend 1 cup steamed cauliflower or carrots into a cheese sauce.
- Mix a can of lentils with lean ground meat.
- Blend a can of lentils with a can of tomato sauce.
- Add rolled oats to veggie/meat burgers when preparing from scratch.
- Add chia/hemp/flax seeds to smoothies, salads, yogurt, and baked goods.
- Replace white carbs with whole grains like spelt, buckwheat or brown rice.
- Start your day off with quick, rolled, or steel cut oatmeal topped with fruit, nuts and seeds.
- Snack on fruit and vegetables with nut butters or hummus.
- Eat a small salad or vegetable/bean soup at the start of your meal to take advantage of when you’re the most hungry (and when you’ll eat anything … before filling up on the rest of your meal)!
- Leave the peels on your fruits and vegetables when the skin is edible such as apples, kiwi, potatoes, cucumber and carrots.
- Try to eat at least one meat-free meal each week, choosing recipes with beans or soy products instead.
What you need to know before adding more fibre
When switching from a low-fibre diet to a high-fibre one, be sure to do it slowly and to increase your water intake! Too much fibre too quickly can cause bloating, gas, abdominal pain diarrhea and/or constipation. Adding fibre slowly though will let your gut bacteria adapt and deal with it more comfortably.
To get the most benefit, it’s best to get your fibre from whole foods rather than supplements when possible. For example, choose an extra serving of fruit or add chia seeds instead of using Benefibre in your smoothie. This will not only give you more fibre that your gut bacteria will love, but also gives your body more nutrition.
Note: If you’re concerned about having Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis or a history of bowel obstructions, please speak to your Dietitian about adding more fibre to your diet.
Thinking about weight loss for your heart health? Check out another article, Weight loss for Heart Health.
Adding more fibre is a great place to start your journey
Whether you’re trying to change your diet and lifestyle or to maintain your current health, fibre is an easy and efficient way to take control of your journey.
With the tips we’ve shared, you can get started right away on improving your weight, blood sugars, cholesterol levels and reducing your risks of developing long-term conditions later in life.
Fibre doesn’t have to be bland and tasteless. It can be easily increased in all of your dishes without evening noticing. Now that you know why fibre is such a big deal, focusing on getting more can be an easy and powerful way to reach your goals and live a healthier version of you!
If you found this helpful and would like even more tips, join the next FREE workshop where we talk about (real life) ways you can take control of your Weight & Health. Learn more and register here.
Article brought to you by Andrea Howe, Dietetic Intern and Angela Hubbard, RD, CDE (September 2020)
Angela Hubbard is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with 10 years experience working in the field of nutrition. Her work focuses on helping people take back control of their health & weight … before it feels like their health controls their life. In her off time she loves swapping recipes, creating and exploring Northern BC life with her young family.