Some time ago I was talking with friends about what is new in food and nutrition, what is in, what is out and what is trendy. For example, protein is right on trend, coconut water and coconut everything, very in, just like gluten-free, superfruits, natural and organic. So where does that leave fibre, does it mean it is out? Why is no one concerned about fibre? Do we consider fibre as a nutrient of the past? Is it that we have just enough of it in our diet? Or is it that it is just not cool enough especially when there are so many other nutritious and delicious choices? Personally, I think fibre is the one nutrient that makes my life better. If I could give one nutrient the “Oscar” for “most naturally available” the winner would be fibre as it deserves to be elevated to the rank of “super-nutrient”.
Why is dietary fibre a supernutrient?
Dietary fibre is a super-nutrient because it provides super benefits!
A nutrient is anything that nourishes a living being. According to Wikipedia, “nutrients are the nutritious components in foods that an organism utilizes to survive and grow.” There are different types of nutrients: Macronutrients – like protein, carbohydrates and fat – that provide energy and building blocks for the body to function and micronutrients – like vitamins and minerals – that assists our body in the use of the macronutrients. Both types of nutrients can be acquired from nature. They are used to build and repair tissues, regulate body processes and are converted to and used for energy. Dietary fibre is a carbohydrate that is naturally present in foods of plant origin and that is not digested or absorbed. They carry a number of health benefits including laxation, blood cholesterol and blood glucose attenuation. Different fibres are classified according to their different properties:
- Soluble fibres which absorb water to become a gelatinous, viscous substance which is fermented by bacteria in the digestive tract.
- Insoluble fibres, non-fermentable which have bulking action.
- Insoluble fibres, such as resistant starch, which are fully fermented.
- Functional fibres, which are ingredients that can be synthetically manufactured or naturally occurring
Types and Effects of Fibre Ingredients
Fibre: a nutrient with super benefits
Here is a list of health benefits associated with eating more fibre:
- Cardiovascular health
- Diabetes management
- Weight management
- Metabolic syndrome
- Cancer prevention
- Immune system
- Digestive health
According to Health Canada the benefits of fibre are inherent to their definition. To be called a fibre in Canada, the nutrient has to provide one of the following benefits:
- Improve regularity
- Reduce total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol level (bad cholesterol)
- Reduce post-prandial blood glucose and/or insulin level
- Acts as fuel for the good bacteria in the gut – this is called the prebiotic effect
There is no controversy regarding the benefit of fibre, more specifically insoluble fibre, when it comes to regularity and digestive health. In general food takes between 1.5 to 3 days to travel the entire length of the digestive tract. Because fibre itself is non digestible, it helps keep food moving through the digestive system and helps what is not absorbed to be easily eliminated. The way it works, think of a broom that sweeps what is not absorbed by the small intestine and helps bring it to the large intestine to be eliminated. Wheat bran, psyllium and resistant starches from various plant foods are the type of fibres recognized for their regularity benefit.
High blood cholesterol is an important risk factor of heart disease. Soluble, viscous fibres significantly lower blood cholesterol, helping to reduce the risk factor of heart disease. The way it works, think of soluble fibre as something that has the texture of a sponge that soaks up cholesterol and carries it from your body to be eliminated. Soluble fibre helps control blood cholesterol by binding some of the cholesterol in the digestive tract. This cholesterol is “trapped” and removed from the body naturally. Beta glucan (from oats and barley), oat fibre, psyllium, are recognized fibres that lower blood cholesterol.
Evidence suggests that the addition of soluble dietary fibre (e.g. eggplant, okra, oat products, beans, psyllium and barley) improves blood glucose control after a meal. The way it works, soluble fibre attracts water and forms a viscous gel during digestion, slowing the emptying of the stomach and intestinal transit, shielding carbohydrates from enzymes and delaying absorption of glucose, which finally lowers variance in blood sugar levels. According to the Institute Of Medicine there is evidence that it is the total fibre intake that reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth and/or activity of bacteria in the digestive system and are beneficial to health. For example, inulin is a type of prebiotic. Inulin is found in foods such as leeks, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats and soybeans. According to emerging science, prebiotic fibres could potentially reduce the prevalence and duration of infectious and antibiotic-associated diarrhea, reduce symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease, reduce risk factors for heart disease and promote satiety and weight management.
How much fibre do I need?
Most people think they already have enough fibre in their diet and they say things like: “I don’t have any … problem…!” or “I eat my fruits and vegetables so I am good with fibre”. The fact is the majority don’t eat the fibre necessary for good health. How much more should we eat in a day? Due to the recognized beneficial effects of dietary fibre intake in people with diabetes The Canadian Diabetes Association recommend higher intakes for adults with diabetes – 25 to 50 grams per day from a variety of sources, including soluble and cereal fibres.
When shopping for fibre, you can assume that:
Fruits and vegetables range from approximately 1 to 7 grams of fibre per serving. They are also good sources of many vitamins and minerals.
Legumes, nuts and seeds range from 3 to 9 grams of fibre per serving. They are also a source of protein.
Whole-grain products like bread are also a high source of fibre and some bread can provide as much as 12 grams of fibre per serving. Breakfast cereals range from 4 to 14 grams of fibre and provide many vitamins and minerals.
What does 25 and 50 grams of fibre per day look like? Below are three examples of typical daily menus including how much fibre each one provides. You can see that it takes good planning to be able to reach 50 grams in one day. However, with time it will become easier and almost second nature.
To eat more fibre daily requires conscious effort at meal time as well as snack time. Here are five different ways that you could add fibre to your daily routine:
- Try to choose at least 5 servings of whole vegetables or fruits each day. If you take juice instead, you are not getting the fibre you need.
- When choosing grains, go for whole grain first and look for those that have bran added. Not all whole grains are high in fibre. Look at the nutrition facts table to find grain foods that are high in fibre (4 g fibre) or very high (6 g fibre and more).
- Try a vegetarian dish that is made with legumes twice a week. You can also add different beans to casseroles, stews and spaghetti sauce.
- When hungry between meals, choose higher fibre snacks like popcorn, peanuts, fresh or dry fruits or an extra bowl of high fibre cereal.
- Sprinkle very high fibre cereal or 100% bran on salad or on your favourite cereal – hot or cold, use it as coating instead of breadcrumbs or add it to your favourite spaghetti sauce, beef pattie or meatloaf recipe.
When it comes to fibre every gram counts to meet the recommended 25-50 grams and to benefit every day from this super-nutrient.