Paula Southworth

Nutritionist and Health Coach

BSc Nutrition and Sports Science

Massey University, Auckland

New Zealand

What’s the big fuss about fibre?

 

“Eat more fibre”….we hear it all the time, but why is fibre so important?  We already know that fibre helps keep to keep us regular, but is there any more to the story?

Fibre also helps to maintain a healthy weight, reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and bowel disorders.

So how does fibre help with:

  • Weight :  fibre makes us feel fuller for longer, so we are less likely to overeat.  Foods that are high in fibre require more chewing, this gives our stomach time to register when we are full.  Eating quickly doesn’t allow the stomach adequate time to tell the brain that we are no longer hungry and we can end up eating more than we really need.  Foods that are high in fibre tend to have less kilojoules.
  • Type 2 Diabetes : fibre helps to slow the rates at which sugar enters the bloodstream and so prevents blood sugar levels spiking. High levels of sugar in the bloodstream can, over time, damage the blood vessels.  It acts a bit  like a slow release fertiliser, allowing the body to process sugar in smaller amounts. This means that our pancreas can keep up with the work of getting the sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells, reducing the chance of damage to blood vessels.
  • Heart disease :  Fibre lowers blood cholesterol levels by reducing its absorption from the intestines.

Foods that are high in fibre also contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, substances that have positive health benefits for our bodies.

Fibre is only found in plant foods.  There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble fibre and they have slightly different functions.  Insoluble fibre is the fibre we all think of when the word fibre is mentioned.  It’s indigestible and helps prevent constipation.  Soluble fibre absorbs water like a sponge and causes a softer stool that is easier to pass, it also prevent the absorption of cholesterol and slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream.  Fruits and vegetables, preferably with the skin on, are our best sources of fibre, but oats, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds are excellent sources too.

How much do we need?  Generally, 25 grams per day for women and 30 grams per day for men.  However, fibre requirements change as we age, during pregnancy and breastfeeding or if we have a health condition.  In such cases, it’s a good idea to check requirements with a Nutritionist or Dietitian.  It is not advisable to put young children on very high fibre diets as it will make them too full and prevent them from eating enough food to meet all their vitamin and mineral requirements. Children’s dietary fibre requirements vary according to their age.

It’s important to increase the fibre content of our diets slowly and always with a simultaneous increase in water intake, otherwise we may end up constipated as fibre absorbs water. Suddenly increasing our fibre intake can cause bloating, gas and discomfort, so it is advisable to consult with a Nutritionist or Dietitian to avoid uncomfortable side effects. Fibre is definitely our friend and it is worth making sure we include a good amount into our diets.

 

 Printed in the Rodney Times on April 22, 2014 by Paula Southworth.