According to the most recent Australian Health Survey, Australian’s are not meeting the 30g a day suggested intake of fibre – why is this so and what happens to you and your health when you don’t eat enough fibre?
In Australia, almost half of the adult population are deliberately limiting their intake of grain foods and four out of five are not getting enough fibre to help reduce the risk of chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease, bowel cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The latest research shows that if every Australian adult adds two to three serves of high fibre grain food to their daily diet it could save the economy an estimated $3.3 billion a year from reduced healthcare costs and lost productivity.
The recommended dietary intake for fibre for Australian adults is between 25-30g per day. On average, most Australians consume 20-25g of fibre daily.
The rising trend in fad diets and other popular diets like the ketogenic diet and paleo may be a contributing factor. These diets notoriously have a larger focus on high fat and protein intake with low levels of carbohydrate foods, which is where we find good sources of fibre. Restriction of certain food groups such as wholegrains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which some of these diets advocate, may be another reason why we are not hitting our fibre targets. These avoided foods contain some of the highest amounts of fibre per serve. Additionally, four out of five Australians are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables in their diet, which are an excellent source of fibre.
Other reasons, I believe, Australian’s aren’t meeting the recommended amount is due to us being more time-poor than ever, improvements in technology allowing us to order fast/convenient food from restaurants (usually low in fibre), fussy eating, poor education around nutrition and not having the skills or confidence in the kitchen to prepare a home cooked meal.
A low fibre intake puts us at risk of many chronic health conditions such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, Chrohn’s disease, bowel cancer, heart disease and type two diabetes. This is because fibre helps to reduce general inflammation, which is a precursor to disease states.
What is fibre?
There are three different types of fibre which all have different functions and health benefits:
- Soluble fibre – includes pectins, gums and mucilage, which are found mainly in plant cells. Good sources of soluble fibre include fruits, vegetables, oat bran, barley, seeds, flaxseed, psyllium, dried beans, lentils, peas, soy milk and soy products.
- Insoluble fibre – includes cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin, which make up the structural parts of plant cell walls. Good sources include wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans and wholegrain foods.
- Resistant starch – is not digested in the small intestine and instead proceeds to the large intestine where it can assist in the production of good bacteria and improves bowel health. Good sources include undercooked pasta, under ripe bananas, cooked and cooled potato and brown rice.
What role does fibre play in our health?
Fibre isn’t talked a lot about but it should be because we need more of it and it helps reduce risk of disease. There are different types of fibre and each one has specific health properties and actions in the body. For example, soluble fibre is important for increasing production of short chain fatty acids in the gut. Which is important for optimising the beneficial bacteria levels. It also assists in stool formation and helps to lower the postprandial glucose response, inflammation and total and LDL cholesterol. Insoluble fibre increases the gut transit time, reducing risk of constipation, reduced risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. It also reduces inflammation and increases satiety, which is helpful in reducing risk of obesity.
The link between fibre and a healthy gut
Dietary fibre plays a key role in the types of bacteria that thrive in our guts and how they work. Studies have shown that people who eat more fibre have more of an anti-inflammatory chemical in their blood called indolepropionic acid, which is made by gut bacteria. In turn, inflammation in the body is reduced, which reduces your risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Other studies have shown how fibre helps to grow bacteria in the gut that produce chemical signals that help to regulate appetite and blood sugar. These studies add to what we know about how important the gut microbiota is when it comes to the development of some chronic diseases e.g. obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The one underlying factor that all these studies have in common, which is important to understand about gut bacteria is that they’re already there in our gut, and they change in response to our diets. The best way to positively change them in a lasting way is to change their food source – our diet.
When you introduce a large amount of diverse fibres into the gut, you will disturb the ecosystem. Some bacteria will take advantage of that to grow and increase their population levels. Some others may decline. Gut bacteria live off two food sources – the food we can’t digest, which is fibre, and the products of digestion that are made locally in our intestines.
Therefore, if we lack fibre in our diets, this enormous ecosystem in our intestines, made up of an estimated 100 trillion cells, can become underfed in ways that encourage disease instead of health.
A word of caution though, if you decide to boost fibre in your diet, it takes some time for the bacteria to adjust (about a month). During this period of adjustment one can experience some uncomfortable side effects like bloating and gas.
Ways to boost fibre at breakfast
There are many ways of increasing fibre at breakfast. Some good options include:
- Sprinkle of psyllium husk or LSA (linseed, sunflower seed and almond) mix on oats (porridge), muesli, natural yoghurt or smoothies.
- A small handful of nuts and seeds through Greek, natural or Kefir yoghurt
- Add some cut up fruit or berries to your smoothies or yoghurt
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans) on wholemeal or multigrain toast e.g. homemade baked beans.
- Use hummus or avocado as a spread on your toast
- An omelette packed with diced vegetables
- A slice of wholemeal or multigrain toast with avocado, tomato and eggs
High fibre snack ideas
- A handful of raw nuts and seeds
- Hummus or guacamole dip with cut up vegetable sticks
- A 200g tub of Greek yoghurt with berries and LSA
- A pear or apple with skin on
- Air popped natural pop corn
- Edamame beans
- Dates dipped in natural peanut butter (trust me, it’s delicious)
- Natural wholemeal rice cakes with almond butter (or other natural nut butter)