Nutrition: Fibre

Most Australians don’t get enough fibre in their diet, which increases their risk for certain cancers, diverticular disease, and some types of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

 

Fibre - it’s probably not something most of think much about, unless we’re having a bit of trouble. Dietary fibre is the part of the plant that is unable to be digested in the small intestine and generally broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. Fibre helps to keep us regular, regulate our blood glucose and lowers blood cholesterol.

Most Australians don’t get enough fibre in their diet, which increases their risk for certain cancers, diverticular disease, and some types of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Most dietary fibre comes from grains and cereals and fruit and vegetables, we need around 25-30g a day. This is roughly ½ a cup of porridge with sliced banana, a wholegrain salad sandwich, an apple, a small handful of almonds and 4 serves of vegetables. So it pretty easy to achieve with a healthy diet, a high fibre diet also helps to manage our weight because it’s lower in calories.

There two main types of fibre, soluble which helps to form a gel in the gut and soften our stools, and insoluble which adds bulk to our faeces. Insoluble fibre acts like a sponge and soaks up water easing the transit, slows the passage of food through the gut, helps to maximise the absorption of nutrients and lower our bad cholesterol levels. A high fibre diet on its own may not relieve the symptoms of constipation because of this effect of water being reabsorbed, if you are increasing fibre intake, you need to increase your fluid intake too.

If you are increasing your fibre intake it’s important to do it slowly over a few weeks to give your body time to adapt. Otherwise you may experience bloating, excessive wind and abdominal discomfort. Everyone is different and normal bowel movements vary from once or twice a day to once very 2-3 days, it’s keeping a note of what’s normal for you that’s important. Constipation can be sometimes be caused by factors other than a lack of fibre, these include not drinking enough water, irritable bowel syndrome or the use of strong pain killers. Excessive use of stimulant laxatives over time can lead to them being ineffective, so it’s important to manage your bowels with a healthy diet and exercise to prevent problems later in life and reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases.

 

Top tips

  1. If you are increasing your fibre intake, remember to increase your fluid intake too
  2. Long term use of laxatives leads them being ineffective
  3. Eat plenty of fruit & vegetables and whole grains to easily meet your fibre needs and good bowel health
  4. If you have just finished a course of antibiotics try a probiotic to restore good gut bacteria