Wave, Summer 2014
Dietary fibre is an important part of a healthy eating pattern.
Not only does it play an important role in helping with bowel regularity and motility, it has been shown to help reduce the risk of developing certain health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Yet not all Canadians are getting the fibre they need to maintain good health. Most adult Canadians need between 25 and 38 grams of fibre a day, depending on their age and gender. But studies show most Canadians are getting only about 50 per cent of their daily fibre requirements.
What is the reason for this fibre shortage?
Well, as you might expect, it has a lot to do with our lifestyle choices. Canadians eat a fair amount of processed foods and convenience foods that are often low in fibre.
Fortunately, fibre is readily available in a variety of plant-based foods, so most people should be able to get the fibre needed simply by making a few adjustments to their eating pattern.
There are two different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. While we need to eat both types of fibre for good health, they actually do different things. And, fortunately, most fibre-rich foods have a mix of both types. Here is a quick overview:
• Soluble fibre: Soluble fibre dissolves into water to form a viscous gel-like material. A benefit of soluble fibre is that it makes you feel fuller longer. This promotes a sense of well-being through satiety after eating your meals and snacks.
Soluble fibre is found in oats, oat bran, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), apples, barley and some vegetables and fruit. Eating is about pleasure and feeling satisfied after eating meals, so why not eat fibre-rich foods spread throughout your three meals per day and snacks. This helps your body to use fibre more efficiently and helps to promote feelings of satiety.
In addition to promoting satiety after meals, soluble fibre is helpful in reducing the risk for a number of chronic health conditions. For example, there is evidence to suggest that it can help regulate blood glucose. As a result, consuming soluble fibre can help reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
There is also strong evidence to support that soluble fibre is beneficial in managing blood cholesterol levels. This can help to lower your risk of developing certain types of cardiovascular disease.
• Insoluble fibre: The single most important characteristic of insoluble fibre is that it does not dissolve in water. This allows insoluble fibre to pass through the gastrointestinal system relatively intact without being digested, which, in turn, helps promote regularity. Insoluble fibre is found in whole grains, wheat bran, some vegetables and fruit, and nuts and seeds.
It is important to increase the amount of water and other fluids you drink as you increase your dietary fibre intake. Fibre needs enough fluid to work properly to help to maintain regular and soft bowel movements.
Ginette Le Gal is a public health dietitian with the Winnipeg Health Region.
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Tips to increase your dietary fibre
Many plant-based foods contain a mix of soluble and insoluble fibre. Here are some tips to boost your intake of both types:
Go for whole grains
Try quinoa, rolled oats, brown rice, wild rice, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, whole wheat pasta. Look for food labels with whole grains in the ingredient list. Choose whole grains when choosing breads, buns, pitas.
Fruits and berries are bursting with flavour and fibre
Add strawberries, blueberries, raspberries to plain yogurt, salads, cereal. Try a pear, orange, or apple, naturally packed with fibre, for dessert.
Keep it covered with its own peel
Eat your fruits and vegetables with their own edible peels. Choose vegetables and fruit more often, instead of juices. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnips and asparagus are good sources of fibre.
Add on nuts and seeds
Try hot rolled oats with juicy berries, sprinkled with a handful of crunchy almonds or walnuts and cinnamon. Toss walnuts in your vegetable stir-frys. Try ground flaxseed with your cereal or yogurt.
Incorporate legumes, dried peas, beans and lentils
Add lentils to your favourite pasta sauce and serve over whole wheat pasta. Make hummus or bean dips for your veggies. Add black beans or chickpeas to your salads, soups, and stews. Gradually increase fibre-rich foods over a few weeks to help your body to adjust to a higher fibre intake. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids such as water as you increase fibre, as fibre needs fluids to work properly in your body. Making small gradual changes over time can help you to reap the health benefits of dietary fibre.