What’s the Deal with Dietary Fibre?
Digestive health and fibre are not the most glamourous or sexy topics, but most people have a basic understanding that the two are linked and that fibre is important.
However, most people don’t know the difference between soluble and insoluble fibre, or what it actually does in the body.
Because fibre plays such a critical role in a happy digestive tract and a healthy life, let’s break it down.
What is Fibre?
Fibre is a group of carbohydrates that come from plants. There are many kinds, but the common characteristic is that humans cannot digest them. There are several types of fibre, and like other carbohydrates, some are beneficial, and others not so much.
The foods we eat begin breaking down immediately upon consumption, and the little beasts behind the process are called digestive enzymes. As humans, we lack the digestive enzymes necessary to break down fibre.
Fibre reaches the intestines essentially unchanged, so you might be wondering why it’s necessary in the first place.
What are the Different Kinds of Fibre?
To discuss why fibre is essential, let’s first outline the two main ways these carbohydrates are classified:
Most plants contain both classifications in varying amounts.
Solubility refers to the ability to be dissolved. When it reaches the intestines, fibre mixes with water and soluble fibre breaks apart to form a gel-like substance.
Soluble fibre has various health benefits throughout the body.
When insoluble fibre meets water in the gut, it does not break down. Instead, it passes through the entire digestive tract unchanged.
The benefits are different, but insoluble fibre has various health benefits as well.
Why is Fibre Important?
Each type of fibre is important for different reasons.
Soluble fibre is important because the gel-like substance that results from mixing it with water acts as a glue that traps fat and sugar, preventing the body from absorbing these molecules. Both fats and sugars play essential roles in the body, but too much of either can result in several health conditions.
Insoluble fibre absorbs water and creates a helpful, natural laxative effect, making stool easier and more comfortable to pass while also clearing the intestines of waste that might otherwise be left behind.
Benefits of Eating Enough Fibre
Fibre is one of those health things that you don’t always notice the beneficial effects, but you know when it’s lacking.
The benefits of eating enough high fibre foods and consuming enough fibre in general are:
- regular bowel movements
- maintain intestinal health
- lower cholesterol, especially the “bad” cholesterol (LDL)
- control blood sugar
- achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and death
Eating enough fibre, both soluble and insoluble, means that your stool is bulkier, heavier, and softer. While bulky and heavy stool sounds counterintuitive, it is easier to pass, and it helps to clean the inner walls of the intestines.
The cleaning and clearing of the intestinal walls are responsible for the intestinal health benefit mentioned above. In addition, high fibre diets are also linked to fewer hemorrhoids and cases of diverticular disease.
Soluble fibre lowers bad cholesterol levels by binding to the lipid molecules in the intestines. This binding prevents the cholesterol particles from entering the bloodstream and instead directs them out of the body. This significantly lowers cholesterol levels.
Fibre does not reduce the amount of blood sugar in the body, but it does slow the rate at which food is digested, preventing a spike in the blood sugar and making you feel fuller sooner and for longer.
In the same way, fibre aids in weight loss and weight maintenance because it helps to control your appetite.
All of these factors combined come together to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, all kinds of cancer, and the resulting untimely deaths that occur due to these dangerous diseases.
Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Fibre
As we said, you might not notice how good eating enough fibre makes you feel. That is, until you’re not eating enough.
Failing to eat the minimum recommended amount of fibre daily can lead to:
- a high and then a crash after eating sugary foods
- constantly feeling hungry
- gaining weight
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
How Much Fibre Do I Need?
Okay, so you’re probably convinced that you need to make fibre a priority in your diet, but how much do you need?
The daily recommendation for adults younger than 50 is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Adults who are older than 50 need less—30 grams for men and 21 grams for women. This amount can be spread throughout the day and should be consumed daily to maintain the benefits.
How to Eat More Fibre
Eating more fibre is easy once you know which foods contain it.
The most common high fibre food sources include:
- whole-grain product
- legumes like beans and peas
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
There are other ways to increase your fibre intake, too, like with fibre supplements.
Tips for Eating More Fibre
- Include as many high fibre foods in your daily nutrition as you can. See the list below.
- Breakfast is an excellent time to prioritize fibre for a multitude of reasons. It helps fill you and gives you energy to tackle the day.Not to mention breakfast foods are typically chalk full of fibre.
High-Fibre Breakfast Foods
- Whole-wheat toast
- Whole-grain cereals
Include a banana, and you’ve got a great, filling, high fibre meal.
- If you’re still eating white bread and refined flour, it’s time to make the switch to whole grain bread and flour for your baked goods.
Hint: look for the words “whole wheat” and a product that lists whole grains as its first ingredient. Foods that are labeled with only “wheat” frequently contain refined flours and use flavours and colouring to get the wheat appearance.
- Beans are an excellent source of fibre, and they are versatile in taste and texture. It’s easy to add beans to tacos, chili, soups, salads, or any other meal. There are so many kinds that even if you don’t like, say, kidney beans, you might still enjoy chickpeas or black beans.
- Remember the old “strive for five” saying regarding fruits and vegetables? Just eat as many servings of fruits and veggies as you can every day. Not only are they rich in micronutrients we need, but they’re also great sources of fibre.
- Fibre supplements are convenient ways to add fibre to just about anything. You can find sources that are virtually undetectable in pasta sauce, smoothies, and more.
High Fibre Foods
For your convenience, these are common high fibre foods or foods that it’s easy to swap for a high fibre version:
- bread (make sure it’s whole grain as white bread does not have the same nutritional profile
- cereal (again make sure it’s whole grain for the same reason)
- apples, bananas, avocados, and other fruit
- broccoli, brussels sprouts, and other vegetables
- legumes and lentils
- quinoa, oats, brown rice, and other grains
- granola bars and granola cereal
- nuts and seeds
- protein bars and shakes (just check the label for fibre content)
High Fibre Food Recipe
One excellent way to ensure you’re getting enough fibre every day is to load up your breakfast with high fibre foods like toast, fruit, and oats and commit to making one snack per day high in fibre.
One of our favourite high fibre food snacks is a smoothie bowl. It’s easy and quick, delicious, and full of fibre. In addition, you can easily swap the milk for a dairy-free version to make this snack versatile for any diet restrictions.
Supplement Superstore’s Smoothie Bowl
- 1 cup blueberries, fresh or froze
- 1 banana, peeled
- ½ cup Greek yogurt or yogurt alternative
- 1 to 3 tbsp milk or milk alternative
- ½ cup walnuts
- 2 tbsp hemp or chia seeds
- 2 tbsp dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 to 2 tbsp granola
- Add half the blueberries, the banana, and the yogurt to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Add milk or milk alternative and blend until your desired consistency is reached.
- Pour the mixture into a bowl and top with the remaining blueberries, walnuts, seeds, coconut, and granola.
If your breakfast includes: two slices of whole-grain toast, half an avocado, and a veggie-loaded omelet, you start your day with 15 grams of fibre. Add in our smoothie bowl, and you’ve already exceeded your fibre goal with an additional 14 grams.
Alternative to High Fibre Foods: Fibre Supplements
If you’re still not feeling confident about hitting those fibre recommendations after reading our list of high fibre foods, it’s worth considering a fibre supplement.
Straight fibre supplements like Metamucil are available at grocery stores and pharmacies. These are convenient if you’re looking for something that can be added to sauces and baked goods without a trace.
Additionally, you can look for combination fibre supplements and get more bang for your buck. If you already take protein supplements, consider switching to a supplement that also contains fibre. Below are some of our favourite products that contain lots of it.
Daily Cleanse by North Coast Naturals
While health professionals love to tear “cleansing detox” supplements apart, this one is not your typical cleanse. It doesn’t claim to “flush out toxins,” but it does support your digestive health with an impressive 14 grams of fibre per serving.
This product is designed to mix in hot or cold cereals, smoothies, or protein shakes. You can also add it to a glass of water or juice.
This is one of the most versatile protein supplements we carry, and it’s one of our favourites. It’s got 7 grams of fibre per serving along with protein, probiotics, greens, omegas, and all sorts of other good stuff. So, this one product could potentially replace your protein shake, probiotic, greens supplement, omega supplement, and more.
Raw Hemp Seed Hearts by North Coast Naturals
If you’re a fan of smoothies and smoothie bowls, grab a bag of these hemp seed hearts. These delicious little superfoods have a mildly nutty taste, and a nice texture that’s a good addition to your recipes for an added fibre boost.
Superfoods + Greens by Believe Supplements
Swap your regular greens supplement for this one. It contains more fibre than the typical greens product thanks to the unique blend of superfoods. This is also an antioxidant-rich product that helps to support energy levels.
Prebiotic + Probiotic Gummies by Optimum Nutrition
These yummy little vitamins are so easy to add to any morning routine. They support a happy digestive tract by providing probiotics to balance the good bacteria in your gut, and fibre prebiotics to feed that bacteria and keep them thriving.
Oh, and don’t worry about eating too many probiotic foods—you can’t eat too much.
Protein Cookies by Quest
Quest might just be the queen of functional food snacks. They’ve tackled protein bars, cookies, and chips and have made delicious snacks that kill cravings like no other.
These cookies don’t disappoint and they’re an excellent swap for your afternoon sweet treat. They’ve got 9 grams of fibre per serving, which leaves this snack with just 11 net carbs and 7 grams come from sugar.
All that adds up to a delicious alternative to a regular chocolate chip cookie when you need a little extra protein and fibre!
Whether you get your fibre from high fibre foods, fibre supplements, or a mix of both, you will notice a huge difference in the way you feel once you prioritize your fibre intake. Like we said, though, you might stop noticing just how good you feel until you fall off again.
The bottom line is that with enough fibre, you’ll feel great, and you will be healthier overall. So, make sure you’re getting enough! Your heart and digestive tract will thank you!