Written by Talia Cecchele
Dietary fibre has been getting a lot of attention in the media lately and rightly so! It is a fabulous nutrient and it’s intake is linked to many health benefits including gut health, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and weight management. Knowing the types of fibre, which foods they are found in and how much to eat can be confusing. So let’s break it down.
What is dietary fibre?
Dietary fibre is only found in plant foods (e.g. grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and nuts). It passes through the digestive tract, untouched until it gets to the large intestine where it is partially, or completely broken down by good bacteria.
There are three main types of fibre: Insoluble fibres: the "bulking" fibre promotes regular bowel movements. These fibres pass through our system without being broken down. They are found in most wholegrain breads and cereals, bran, nuts, seeds and the skin of fruits and veggies.
Soluble fibres: the "gel-like" fibre attracts water keeping your bowel contents soft. It also helps to lower bad cholesterol and slows digestion. It is found in wholegrains, especially oats, the flesh of fruits and vegetables, legumes, psyllium, nuts and seeds.
Resistant starches: think of this as the food for your good gut bacteria. This passes through into the large intestine where it is then fermented and broken down. It is found in legumes, cooked and cooled pasta, rice and potato and firm bananas.
How much do I need a day?
The amount recommended varies between countries for age, gender and disease risk. In Australia and the UK, recommendations are to consume 30g per day for adults. If you are following a well-balanced diet, this should be an achievable target as this translates to eating the following every day:
At least 4 serves of wholegrain foods (e.g. grains and cereals). One serve is 1/2 cup cooked rice, noodles or pasta, 1 slice of bread, 2 weetbix, 1/2 cup cooked porridge, 2/3 cup cereal flakes or 1 crumpet.
At least 5 serves of vegetables. One serve is 1/2 cup cooked or raw vegetables, 1/2 cup legumes or 1 cup of leafy greens e.g. cabbage, spinach and lettuce
At least 2 serves of fruit. One serve is 1 medium piece of fruit (banana, apple, orange etc.), 2 smaller fruits (kiwi, mandarin, plum etc.), 1 cup of berries or 30g dried fruit
Getting it right
When transitioning to a higher fibre diet it is very important to GO SLOWLY otherwise you might experience cramping, bloating, abdominal pain and constipation. Try incorporating one high fibre food every few days. You also need to ensure that you are drinking adequate fluids as fibre needs plenty of water to keep stool soft. Recommendations for hydration are around 2-2.5L fluids daily for an adult.
Although processed grains (such as white flour and rice) still contain fibre, it is about 30% compared to what the wholegrain variety provides. You can tweak your diet by making swaps to high fibre alternatives throughout the day. I’ve listed my favourite ideas below:
Choosing a high fibre breakfast cereal. My favourites are oats, fruit-free muesli, bran and Weetbix (or Weetabix if you’re living in the UK)
Leaving the skin on your fruit and vegetables where possible e.g. potato, carrot, kiwi fruit
Opt for grainy and wholemeal bread
Choose high fibre snacks such as hummus and crackers or veggie sticks, fruit and nuts, energy balls made wit oats
Choose wholemeal pasta or a legume pasta such as chickpea or lentil
Swap half or all plain white flour to wholemeal flour in baking
Sneak extra veggies into dishes like Bolognese or rissoles
Here is an example to show you what just a few small changes can make:
Did you know?
A food is considered high in fibre when it contains more than 5g of dietary fibre per 100g. You can check this on the nutrition information panel usually found on the back of the pack.
I hope that you were able to learn something new by reading this! If you have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message through Instagram @tcnutrition or facebook @taliacecchelenutrition
Talia is a registered dietitian working in private practice and as an eating disorder specialist dietitian in London's leading private mental health hospital. As a freelance dietitian, Talia not only offers 1:1 consultations but can present at your workplace, create recipes or articles or host a cooking demonstration. To enquire please fill out a contact form.