Fibre is one of the most basic elements of a healthy diet. A major building block of plants, fibre occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains. If our diet includes a large proportion and variety of whole foods, it’s easy to maintain healthy levels of fibre intake.
Unfortunately, living in a culture in which fast and processed foods proliferate, it’s all too easy to find ourselves fibre deficient. That’s why it’s essential to pay attention to this particular nutritional component that is not a vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, or a protein.
The fibre interest
Interest in fibre’s health benefits began in the 1970s when physicians Burkitt and Trowell identified differences between disease patterns in Africa and the Western world. They observed that the Africans studied had a lower prevalence of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than did Westerners. The researchers attributed this to the plant-based diet eaten by the African population, giving rise to the “fibre hypothesis” suggesting that whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide fibre that is necessary for optimal health.
Fibre’s good fight
A high fibre diet has repeatedly been shown to reduce the risk of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Perhaps most importantly of all, fibre is key to maintaining a healthy digestive system, which in turn is essential for the absorption of nutrients and the effective elimination of toxins and wastes. Additionally, fibrous foods help us feel more satiated and thus make weight control much easier.
Rich fibre sources
|1 cup (177 g)||kidney beans (cooked)||16||218|
|1 cup (172 g)||black beans (cooked)||15||227|
|1 cup (188 g)||lima beans (cooked)||13||216|
|1 cup (123 g)||raspberries||8||64|
|1 cup (136 g)||yam (cooked)||5||158|
|1 cup (175 g)||Swiss chard (cooked)||4||35|
|1 cup (100 g)||cauliflower (raw)||3||25|
|1 Tbsp (10 g)||flaxseeds||3||36|
|1 cup (91 g)||broccoli (raw)||2||31|
Two types of dietary fibre
There are two types of dietary fibre; each play a role in our physical well-being.
Insoluble fibre remains whole and absorbs water as it travels through the digestive tract, sweeping it clean of clinging waste material as it goes.
Soluble fibre reaches the large intestine and once there, is fermented and at least partially absorbed into the system.
This fermentation is essentially a feeding of the gastrointestinal bacteria, creating short chain fatty acids, which once absorbed in the colon, reduce cholesterol produced by the liver and help regulate insulin production. These factors impart improved circulatory health and therefore a lowered risk of heart disease.
Feeding the gut
Recently, we have seen a host of mainstream food products jubilantly advertising the new addition of concentrated fibres such as psyllium and inulin. While these products may up our daily fibre intake, they may not be as healthy as they appear at first glance.
While it is beneficial to include fibre in certain processed foods, many health specialists advise that eating unprocessed, whole plant foods rich in cellulose is by far the best and easiest way to ensure a safe, nutritionally beneficial fibre intake.
Fibre fake outs
When looking at a popular bran cereal with psyllium, not only do we find a high fibre content (13 g per 1/3 cup), but also a significant amount of refined cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup (8 g per 1/3 cup), both of which undermine the benefits of the psyllium. Having a bowl of psyllium-bran cereal with milk could actually be quite constipating unless you remember to drink a big glass of water with this meal.
Yogurts featuring the prebiotic and soluble fibre, inulin, are also very much in vogue right now. Though derived from plant sources such as chicory or Jerusalem artichokes, inulin is a very concentrated substance that our bodies are not necessarily well-adapted to utilizing. There is some suspicion that inulin may also feed yeast and other bad bacteria in the gut, and it has been linked to constipation, diarrhea, IBS, and nutritional malabsorption.
For the purposes of detoxification, both insoluble and soluble fibre can be of benefit.
Rather than focusing on one specific fibre supplement, incorporating more fibre-rich foods, such as beans, lentils, seeds, whole unprocessed grains, fruit, and vegetables, will benefit your detoxification immensely.
Benefits of consuming fibre
Fibre-rich foods contain antioxidants, magnesium, selenium, vitamin E, and phytic acid, which help maintain glucose and insulin homeostasis, while also suppressing oxidative damage and reducing inflammation.
Recent research indicates that a generous intake of dietary fibre reduces the risk of developing
- cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- certain gastrointestinal disorders
If you want to boost your fibre with food, try chia seeds—1 oz (around 2 Tbsp/30 mL) contains 11 g of fibre, about one-third of the recommended 25 to 38 g per day. And here are the top five bacteria-boosting prebiotic foods:
- chicory root
- Jerusalem artichoke
- dandelion greens
- raw garlic
- raw leek
How much fibre do you need?
Most Canadians eat only half the daily amount of recommended fibre. The daily requirements are:
|Children over 4 years of age||25 g|