What is Fibre & Why is it Important?

Whenever we go to the grocery store, we see many labels on packages advertising a product’s fibre content. If we follow health accounts on social media, we’ll probably see something about fibre at some point. All of these messages about fibre can make us think that we should increase our fibre intake, but is that really true? Why is fibre so important exactly? Where can we get it? And what is it anyway? These are all questions most of us have, or have probably had at some point. This article will answer many of your queries to help you successfully and confidently increase your fibre intake.

Firstly, we need to understand what fibre is. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that our body cannot break down into molecules that provide our bodies with energy. Therefore, fibre simply adds bulk to the food contents in our digestive tract, which keeps us feeling fuller for longer. There are two main types of fibre: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Each type of fibre is an important part of our diet and contributes different types of health benefits. Soluble fibre, as the name presumes, is soluble in water. This means that it absorbs fluids and turns into a gel-like consistency in our digestive tract. In contrast, insoluble fibre does not absorb water, but simply adds bulk to the foods we eat.

Fibre is found in a variety of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Buying whole grain products or eating whole fruits are easy ways to increase fibre intake. Furthermore, adding chia seeds, flax seeds, psyllium husk, or leafy greens to smoothies is another great way to consume more fibre. The recommended daily intake of fibre for women is 25g and 39g for men1. When it comes to packaged foods, it is good to read the labels and check the percent daily value found on the right side of a nutrition label. If the daily value is at 15% or more, that product is a great source of fibre that will help you meet your daily recommendation.

When consumed in the recommended amounts, fibre brings several benefits for our digestion . Soluble fibre serves as a prebiotic3. This means that it supports beneficial microorganisms in our large intestines, which play an important role in our overall health. Furthermore, both soluble fibre and insoluble fibre can help keep bowel movements regular and alleviate constipation if consumed with plenty of water3.However, it is possible to eat too much fibre. Excess fibre can actually be harmful because it can displace the nutrients that fuel and support our bodies, as well as bind to minerals and possibly lead to deficiencies. Some signs that you may be eating too much fibre include bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort, constipation, or diarrhea.

Eating more plant-based foods can greatly increase fibre consumption throughout the day and help us reap all the benefits associated with consuming adequate fibre.Consult a Registered Dietitian to see if fibre supplements or fortified fibre products are right for you because they may cause more harm than good. Fibre consumption should be increased gradually to avoid effects such as gas, bloating, constipation, and discomfort. Fibre also traps water, so make sure to drink enough water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Regularly eating a wide variety of whole foods from different food groups, while listening to your body’s needs is the easiest way to eat more fibre. Knowing more about fibre can help us become informed consumers and help us take care of our bodies.


References

  1. Facts on Soluble Fibre. In Unlock Food. Retrieved from http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Fibre/Facts-on-Soluble-Fibre.aspx.
  2. McRorie, J. W., & McKeown, N. M (2017). Understanding the Physics of Functional Fibers in the Gastrointestinal Tract: An Evidence-Based Approach to Resolving Enduring Misconceptions about Insoluble and Soluble Fiber. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117(2), 251-264. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.021.
  3. Anderson, J. W., Baird, P., Davis, R. H., Ferreri S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., Waters, V., & Williams. C. L. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition Reviews, 67(4), 188-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x.

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