Figuring Out the Facts on Fibre

When your parents told you to eat your vegetables, and when Grandma said “Eat your beans and cornbread,” they knew what they were doing. These foods are excellent sources of fibre. While eating fibre may be great advice…it has the reputation of tasting like cardboard. This could not be further from the truth! Fibre can be a delicious addition to your diet.


What is fibre? Fibre is found only in plant foods. It is found in dried beans and peas, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It is a type of carbohydrate that gives plants their structure. Fibre is not digested or absorbed into the body when eaten. It therefore contains no calories.

There are two types of fibre. Both are beneficial in different ways.

Soluble Fibre (such as pectin) mixes with water to form a gummy substance that coats the insides of the intestinal tract. There, soluble fibre binds to cholesterol and reduces its absorption. This helps to lower blood cholesterol levels. It also delays the absorption of glucose and helps with diabetes control.

Sources: oats, seeds, beans, barley, peas, lentils, apples, citrus fruit, carrots, plums, and squash.

Insoluble Fibre absorbs water, making the stool larger, softer and easier to eliminate from the body. It keeps the digestive system running smoothly, reducing constipation, hemorrhoids, and other digestive problems. Since the stool is in the intestines for a shorter period of time, less cancer-causing agents deposit in the digestive tract, preventing certain types of cancer.

Sources: bran, whole grain products, skins of fruits and vegetables, and leafy greens.

What can fibre do for you? There are many health benefits to bulking up on fibre:

Aids in Weight Loss - Fibre-rich foods may help your body stay trim. They take longer to chew, which may slow down your eating time so you eat less food. Fibre helps you feel full and slows the emptying of your stomach. In other words, fibre helps you to fill up before you reach the point of overeating. Fibre itself cannot be fattening because it isn’t digested and has ZERO calories!

Reduces Risk of Heart Disease - Studies have shown that people who consume a high fibre diet are less likely to develop heart disease. Certain types of fibre may help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff). Fibre also helps bile acids pass through as waste. Therefore the body absorbs less dietary cholesterol.

Lowers High Blood Pressure - Fibre-rich foods are also a good source of potassium and magnesium. These two minerals are needed to help regulate blood pressure.

Manages Diabetes - Water-soluble fibre also helps to regulate blood sugar by delaying the emptying time of the stomach. This slows the sugar absorption after meals and reduces the amount of insulin needed.

Prevents Cancer - Eating a high fibre diet throughout one’s life may help prevent certain cancers, such as colon and rectal cancers. Fibre absorbs excess bile acids that are associated with cancer. It also speeds up the time it takes for waste to pass through the digestive system, which decreases the amount of time that harmful substances remain in contact with the intestinal wall. Fibre also forms a bulkier stool, which helps to dilute the concentration of harmful substances.

Reduces Constipation, Hemorrhoids, and Diverticulosis - Fibre absorbs water, softening and bulking the stool. This helps it pass through the digestive system more quickly and easily. As a result, fibre prevents constipation. There is less straining with bowel movements so hemorrhoids are less likely to form. Fibre is also a standard therapy for the treatment of diverticular disease. This painful disease occurs when the tiny sacs in the intestinal wall become weak and infected. A high fibre diet helps to keep these sacs from becoming inflamed.

How much do I need? 
The recommended daily intake for total fibre is:

Adult males, under age 50
38 grams daily

Adult males, over age 50
30 grams daily

Adult females, under age 50
25 grams daily

Adult females, over age 50
21 grams daily

Adult pregnant females
25-35 grams daily

 

Tasty ways to add fibre to your diet: 

  • Add beans to your favourite stir-fry, dips, quesadillas, burritos, and tacos.
  • Eat some type of fresh or dried fruit with every meal.
  • Start your meal with a large spinach salad, sprinkled with nuts, seeds or dried fruit.
  • Choose fruit instead of juice.
  • Make a pot of vegetable soup.
  • Add extra veggies and/or beans, peas, and lentils to soups, casseroles, and stews.
  • Try Middle Eastern cuisine, such as tabouleh or falafel.
  • Keep nuts, trail mixes, and cereal mixes available for snacks.
  • Buy whole wheat pasta, breads, crackers, and cereals.
  • Top casseroles with wheat germ or bran.
  • Eat the skins of fruits and vegetables when possible.
  • Start your morning with a whole grain, high fibre cereal.
  • Ask for lunchtime sandwiches to be prepared with whole grain bread and topped with veggies.

Laxatives…exit here: 
Do not take any laxatives for more than one week without checking with your physician. Do not take a laxative within two hours of other medications.

  • Bulk formers (Metamucil, Citrucel). These products absorb water in the intestines and make the stool softer. They are similar to insoluble fibre. They are the safest laxatives.
  • Stool Softeners (Coloxyl).These products keep the stool moist and prevent dehydration.
  • Saline Laxatives (Milk of Magnesia, Citrate of Magnesia). These products act like a sponge to draw water into the colon for easier passage of the stool.
  • Lubricants (mineral oil). Lubricants grease the stool so it moves more easily in the intestines. They also can bind with fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) and can cause a deficiency over time. In rare cases, pneumonia can occur with usage.

Stimulants (Correctol, Dulcolax, Purge, Senokot). These products cause the intestinal muscles to contract and move the stool through the intestines. They can lead to a dependency. 

 

Cautions: 
Too much fibre too quickly may cause constipation or stomach discomfort. Increase fibre in your diet slowly, and boost your fluid consumption by drinking 8 glasses of water daily.  Use canned or dried beans that are thoroughly cooked; undercooked starch in beans can cause gas. Discard cooking water because it contains some indigestible sugars. If bothered by gas, try Beano, an over-the-counter product which contains an enzyme that digests bean sugars.

 

Dietitian/Nutritionist

Arlene Normand

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