Fibre is found in plant foods like vegetables, fruit, wholegrain foods, legumes, nuts and seeds. Here’s why they are good for you and an essential part of your diet.
Eating fibre and wholegrain foods is linked to a lower risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and may also reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
Eating high fibre foods can also help prevent constipation – this in turn can help to prevent haemorrhoids.
Because high fibre foods are filling they may also make it easier to stay at a healthy weight.
Foods high in fibre are generally good sources of vitamins and minerals, as well as other important nutrients.
How much fibre do I need?
Women are recommended to eat 25g of dietary fibre per day and men 30g per day. Most of people eat less than this. Getting sufficient fibre isn’t just about adding unprocessed wheat bran to breakfast cereal – it’s important to include different types of fibre from a variety of plant foods.
To get enough fibre every day, Cancer Council recommends that an individual eats:
- at least 4 serves of wholegrain or wholemeal foods every day (or ensure about half of your daily serves of breads and cereals are wholegrain or wholemeal varieties)
- at least 2 serves of fruit daily
- 5 serves of vegetables daily including legumes (also known as ‘pulses’)
- wholefoods rather than dietary fibre supplements as the benefits of fibre from foodmay be from the combination of nutrients in food working together.
Eat a mix of different foods
There are 3 types of fibre – soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch – and they are found in different foods. Because they have different health benefits, it’s important to include all 3 in your diet.
Soluble fibre is a type of fibre that dissolves in water. It’s found in oats, legumes (split peas, dried beans such as red kidney beans, baked beans and lentils), fruit, vegetables and seeds. Foods high in these fibres can help you feel full. They also help reduce constipation by speeding up the time it takes for faeces to pass through the body.
Some soluble fibres in fruit, oats, barley and psyllium can reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the small intestine. This can help to lower blood cholesterol levels, although it is more important to eat a diet low in saturated fat.
Soluble fibre can also help stabilise blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
Insoluble fibre is a type of fibre that doesn’t dissolve in water. It’s found in high fibre breads and cereals, the outer skins of fruit and vegetables, and in nuts and seeds.
Because insoluble fibre absorbs water, it helps to soften the contents of the bowel, contributing to keep the bowels regular.
Resistant starch is starch that is not easily absorbed. Different ways of cooking can create different amounts of resistant starch. For example, resistant starch is found in slightly undercooked (‘al dente’) pasta, cooked but cooled potatoes (including potato salad), under-ripe bananas, beans, lentils and a product called Hi-maize used in some breads and breakfast cereals. Freekeh, a Middle Eastern grain available in some supermarkets, is another good source. In general, foods that are less highly processed contain more resistant starch.
An important benefit of resistant starch is that it ferments, which produces substances that help to keep the lining of the bowel healthy.
Tips for including more fibre in your diet
- Know which packaged foods are high in fibre by reading the nutrient panel on the pack. A food with at least 4g fibre per serve is a good source; food with at least 7g fibre per serve is an excellent source.
- Enjoy wholegrain, wholemeal or mixed grain toast instead of white.
- Use wholegrain pasta instead of white pasta.
- Try brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice with casseroles or curries.
- Use wholemeal flour to thicken sauces, gravies and stews.
- Try wholegrain or wholemeal crisp breads with toppings such as creamed corn or salsa dip.
Getting older? Fibre is important
Eating foods containing fibre could be good for your digestion. Constipation tends to become more of a nuisance as you get older, but fibre-rich foods can prevent constipation and other digestive problems.
Remember to drink sufficient fluid
Dietary fibre absorbs fluid so it’s important to drink enough liquid, including water. As a rule of thumb, having urine that’s clear rather than yellow (except first thing in the morning) is a sign that you’re getting enough fluid.
What about fibre and wind?
It’s true that the more fibre we eat the more wind we produce – but this is normal and not a good reason to avoid fibre. If your current diet is low in fibre, increase fibre gradually to help avoid too much wind.