Fibre has always been synonymous with ‘being regular’ but it is also protective against bowel disorders and heart disease. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate, however, unlike other carbohydrates, our bodies are not able to break fibre down into simple sugars. Therefore fibre does not provide us with energy and passes through our small intestine undigested. Foods rich in fibre also contain powerful protective agents, such as antioxidants and phytochemicals. High fibre diets can also help in weight control and the management of diseases such as diabetes.
Fibre is only found in plant products, but in two forms – soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre acts like a sponge, absorbing fluid and making the bowel contents softer and able to move more easily. It also helps lower blood cholesterol and improves blood glucose control.
Insoluble fibre acts as a ‘bulking agent’ which, with soluble fibre, helps to keep us regular. This effect is useful in the treatment of conditions such as constipation, diverticular disease and hemorrhoids.
High-fibre foods are bulky and filling, so eating them at each meal helps with regulating appetite and weight management.
Some types of fibre are prebiotic, which means they act as food for the good bacteria in our gut. While humans can’t digest (breakdown) fibre, these bacteria can. These good bacteria help our bodies with several processes including blood sugar control, immune function, and even brain function. Eating a wide range of plant foods provides us with different types of fibre which supports a thriving good bacteria in our gut to thrive.
Foods rich in soluble and insoluble fibre are listed below.
Note that fibre is increasingly being added to many processed foods e.g. breakfast bars. However, we should aim to get most of our fibre from whole foods.
Most New Zealander’s don’t eat enough fibre. Many of us eat less than half of the recommended amount of 25g for women and 30g for men each day. Tips for increasing your fibre intake are listed below. Adding high-fibre foods to your diet should be done gradually, to minimise possible side effects such as wind and bloating. High-fibre diets are not recommended for young (preschool) children. High fibre foods are too filling, preventing young children from eating enough to meet their vitamin and mineral needs.
While most people don’t eat enough, there are some times when too much fibre may be the issue
If you are experiencing ongoing gut issues we recommend working with a dietitian who can assess the root cause and find the correct fibre recommendation for you.
Note that the Nutrient Reference Value for Australia and NZ have not set an upper limit for fibre as, due to the filling nature of the fibre, it’s pretty hard to over-consume.
Click to read our paper on Dietary Fibre
This paper reviewed the current evidence of health benefits associated with dietary fibre. Starch, simple sugars and non-polysaccharides are all components of dietary fibre and are responsible for bulking faecal matter, increasing viscosity, transit time and Short Chain Fatty Acids production. It is reasonable to conclude that the beneficial effects of dietary fibre include a reduction in the risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. It is also probable that adequate dietary fibre, particularly from grains, reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. These associations for chronic diseases have been found to have an inverse relationship with dietary fibre intake, with higher amounts being more protective.
Last modified: March 11, 2022