What’s So Great About Fibre?

What’s So Great About Fibre?

Not the sexiest topic but let’s get real…..really real. According to the American College of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (I told you….sexy), 80% of adults suffer occasional constipation and 12-19% have chronic problems. In fact, “constipation is the #1 gastrointestinal complaint and accounts for 2.5 million physician visits per year”. Even more troubling, “gastroenterologists at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center have been seeing what they believe is the start of a trend: more children with more serious and chronic bouts of the condition.” And while constipation can be caused by a number of contributing factors, “experts attribute the problem to lack of physical activity, inadequate water intake and fibre-poor diets.” The truth is, everybody talks a lot about whole grains and fruits and veggies but somehow most of us are not getting enough fibre in our diets and the concerns go way beyond regularity, or lack thereof. Turns out fibre may be one of the most important dietary factors in determining overall health.photo by Stacey Boag

So what is fibre? According to the Harvard School of Public Health it’s a “carbohydrate that the body cannot digest.” It is the part of fruits, veggies and grains that moves through the body without being absorbed. So what’s the big deal about something that doesn’t even provide nutrients to the body? Classified as either soluble or insoluble, fibre performs two critical functions in the body. Soluble fibre absorbs water as it moves through the digestive system, slowing digestion, increasing satiety (fullness) and allowing the body to absorb nutrients from the food. Insoluble fibre does not absorb water and is often referred to as “nature’s broom.” It literally moves through the entire digestive tract, sweeping food and waste matter through to prevent blockages and keep the system clean and functional. A diet with enough fibre helps to prevent digestive problems including constipation but also diverticulitis and painful digestive blockages as well as flare-ups of irritable bowel.

If that doesn’t send you running for the roughage, scientific proof is stacking up showing that people who eat more fibre lower their chances of two of the most prevalent and potentially deadly diseases: heart disease and diabetes. “In a Harvard study of over 40,000 male health professionals, researchers found that a high total dietary fibre intake was linked to a 40 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to a low fibre intake, and cereal fibre, which is found in grains, seemed particularly beneficial.” Researchers think the connection is related to fibre’s ability to ward of the high blood pressure (by stabilizing blood sugar levels), excess weight (by increasing a feeling of fullness) and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol that lead to metabolic syndrome, one of the precursors to heart disease. In a nutshell, fibre guards against all the issues that add up to the number one killer in North America.

As for diabetes the research seems to show that “a diet low in cereal fibre and rich in high-glycemic-index foods (which cause big spikes in blood sugar) seems particularly bad. Both Harvard studies—of nurses and of male health professionals—found that this sort of diet more than doubled the risk of type 2 diabetes when compared to a diet high in cereal fibre and low in high-glycemic-index foods.” And if preventing disease isn’t enough, here’s the icing on the big bran bud cake: fibre is energy dense. You can fill up a hungry stomach with fewer calories and that equals weight loss and happy bikini time (okay, that one’s just for the parents). There you have it: deep, meaningful reasons to increase fibre and shallow but no less motivating reasons, something for everyone!

So how much is enough? According to the Mayo Clinic, women should aim to eat at least 21-25g per day and men 30-38g. Those numbers also apply to any child over the age of four. Most of us are lucky if we get half that in a day.

Here are some examples of fibre levels in foods, to give you a sense of what you should be eating to hit those numbers:

1/2 cup of beans or legumes = 6 grams of fibre
1/2 cup of cooked vegetables = 2 – 4 grams of fibre
1/2 cup of chopped fruit or 1 small piece of fruit = 3 grams of fiber
1 slice of whole wheat bread = 2 – 4 grams of fibre
1/2 cup of whole grain cereal = 5 grams of fibre
1/2 cup whole grain pasta = 2 – 4 grams of fibre
1/2 cup of fresh or frozen raspberries = 7 grams of fibre

But the good news is it’s easy to remedy if you just pay a little attention to it. Here are some tips, culled from the medical sites and my very own gastroenterologist (I’ll spare you the details):

1. Choose whole fruit over juice
2. Puree veggie soups to increase servings (1/2 a cup of pureed veggie based soup is 1 serving)
3. Add more whole grains (brown rice, whole grain bread, cereals)
4. Snack on raw fruits and veggies (add dip for the “discerning” child in your house)
5. Let your kids snack on popcorn, its jammed with fibre
6. Exciting news…cocoa powder has fibre! 2g per tbsp…hello hot cocoa

And to add some of the best fibre rich foods to your family’s diet, check out this list from the Mayo Clinic:


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