Why We Need Fibre
By: Amber Whittemore RD, BSN, MHSc(c)
This week we are continuing with the spotlight on carbohydrates, with a focus on fibre!
The Basics & Its Role in Our Health
As a general rule of thumb, where we find plant foods, we find fibre. Fibre is the part of the plant that is resistant to digestion, meaning we can’t fully digest or absorb it. While this might sound like a negative thing, it is actually a really great thing!
These indigestible parts of plant foods promote our overall health and well-being in a myriad of ways, including:
- Keeping our gut healthy and happy, through promoting bowel regularity and optimizing our intestinal lining.
- Balancing our blood lipid levels, notably cholesterol, by binding to it in the intestine and helping it pass rather than be absorbed.
- Keeping us feeling fuller and more satisfied after eating, through prolonging our digestion and transit time of food in the gut.
In addition to these benefits, a high fibre intake is also linked to lower risk of certain diseases, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer1.
There are two different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water, helping to form more solid stools. This is also the fibre that helps us to lower our cholesterol levels, protecting our heart health.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. Instead, it helps by keeping our bowels moving more regularly, promoting proper transit of food and stool through the gut. It also plays a key role in promoting a healthy gut lining2.
Where to Find It
As mentioned above fibre is found in plant foods. In general, the highest fibre content is in those items which have had the least amount of processing, including:
- Whole grains such as bran cereals, psyllium husk, wild rice, wholegrain breads, steel cut oats, brown pasta
- Legumes, nuts, and seeds such as split peas, edamame, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, and hummus
- Fruits such as avocado, pears, apples, and berries
- Vegetables such as peas, artichoke, potato with skin, and brussels sprouts
When we look more specifically at where to find the specific fibres, soluble and insoluble, the food groups can be sorted accordingly – although there is often some overlap!
Sources of soluble fibre include:
- Fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas and avocadoes
- Vegetables such as carrots and potatoes
- Chia seeds, flax seeds, and psyllium
- Legumes and split peas
- Oats and oatmeal
Sources of insoluble fibre include:
- Whole grains such as brown bread, rice, and quinoa
- Wheat and corn bran
- Other fruits, vegetables, and nuts/seeds
How Much Do We Need?
It is recommended that most healthy males and females between the ages of 19-50, unless otherwise indicated by your physician, require 38 and 25 grams of fibre daily respectively. For those above 50 years of age, the recommendations for males and females changes to 30 and 21 grams. So, in general, it is recommended to shoot for somewhere between 25-30 grams of fibre per day, with at least 6-8 of the grams coming from soluble sources3.
If you read your food labels you will often see claims such as “very high source” of fibre. If you have ever wondered what that meant, or are interested in finding foods higher in fibre here is a key to understanding these label claims2:
- “Very high sources” of fibre indicates the item contains 6 or more grams per serving
- “High sources” of fibre: 4 or more grams
- “Source” of fibre: 2 or more grams
Tips for Increasing Fibre in Your Diet
- Aim for either bran cereals, whole grain breads, or oatmeal as your breakfast starch of choice to get your day started on the right foot with fibre.
- Try to fill half of your plate with colourful fruits and vegetables at most meals, the current Canada’s Food Guide (as was mentioned last week) can be a great guide for this!
- Eat your fruits and vegetables with their skin on, when appropriate. For example, pears and apples, potatoes and yams, and buttercup squash!
- Try to add more legumes such as black or kidney beans, edamame beans, nuts and seeds to your meals throughout the day. Ideas could include:
- Sprinkling black beans on top of your salad
- Adding kidney beans to your soup
- Including edamame in your stir-fry
- Making your own hummus from chickpeas and spreading on toast or crackers
- Try to snack on fruits and your favourite veggies throughout the day, pairing them with a source of protein for a perfectly balanced snack! Ideas could include:
- An apple with peanut butter
- Grapes with almonds
- Carrot sticks with hummus
- Celery with cheese slices
- Dates with almond butter
Three Bean Chilli
Makes 4 servings
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 ½ tsp garlic powder)
- 2 jalapenos, seeds removed and diced (a few seeds ok for extra heat)
- 3 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp chipotle powder or smoked paprika
- 1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can (15 oz) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes, with juices
- 1 ½ cups vegetable broth, + more if needed
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- In large pot heat olive oil over medium heat, sauté onion until tender and translucent. Add the garlic, jalapeno, chili and chipotle/paprika powder, cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant.
- Add the beans, tomatoes, and broth, bring to boil, reduce heat, cover with lid partially. Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add more water as needed. Taste for flavor, season with salt and pepper, and add anything else you feel it needs.
Edamame and Broccoli Stir-fry
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli, chopped into bite size pieces
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen bell peppers, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups edamame (no shell)
- 1/2 cup white beans, canned, rinses, and drained
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup soy sauce/tamari
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tbsp corn starch
- 1/2 cup dry (or 1 1/2 cups cooked) brown rice
- Cook brown rice according to instructions.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wok or large pan. Add the broccoli, bell peppers and edamame (no shell). Allow to cook on low while you prepare the dressing.
- Make the dressing by combining the minced garlic, soy sauce/tamari, ground ginger, garlic, sugar and water and pouring into a separate saucepan. Heat to medium. In a small bowl, mix the corn starch with some additional water until the corn starch has dissolved. Slowly add the corn starch mixture to the dressing saucepan, mixing as you pour. Keep the mixture just below boiling as it cooks. Heat for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
- In the vegetable pan, increase the heat to medium and once the broccoli is softened add in the white beans. Cook until the edamame starts to look slightly browned on the sides.
- Plate the cooked rice with the vegetables, pour over the teriyaki sauce, and finish with salt, pepper or chili flakes to taste. Enjoy!
Adapted from: https://www.lighter.world/recipe/56c49703f83f55a2e4d91b52
The Bottom Line
Fibre plays an essential role in our health, not only by promoting our overall wellbeing through a healthy and well-functioning gut, but also by reducing our risk of several diseases!
By including more whole grains, opting to keep the skin on appropriate fruits and vegetables, and adding more pulses to your diet, you are on a great track to optimizing your fibre intake.
If you have any questions about how you could increase fibre in your diet, please feel free to reach out to Healthy Essentials and the dietitians would be happy to chat with you about your unique health needs!
1NHS. (2021, Aug 1). How to get more fibre into your diet. Received from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-get-more-fibre-into-your-diet/#:~:text=There%20is%20strong%20evidence%20that,help%20digestion%20and%20prevent%20constipation.
2Alberta Health Services. (2020, Feb). Fibre fact. Received from: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/nutrition/if-nfs-fibre-facts.pdf
3UCSF. (2021). Increasing fiber intake. Received from: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/increasing-fiber-intake#:~:text=The%20best%20sources%20of%20soluble,day%20%E2%80%94%20coming%20from%20soluble%20fiber.