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Guide Health: Are you getting enough dietary fibre?

Start slowly — adding too much fibre too fast will result in adverse effects

You know that fibre is an important part of your diet, but do you get enough? Daily recommendations vary from 25 to 30 grams of fibre, with older people and women needing even more. A penny weighs about a gram, so that’s about 25 to 30 pennies in weight. (I suspect you can remember pennies!)

Unfortunately, it is estimated that about half of Canadians do not get enough fibre.

Fibre has health benefits, and if you watch advertisements for fibre, it seems to be touted as a cure for everything. However, researchers have shown that good fibre intake actually does have the potential to lower cholesterol and to improve heart health, as well as to help you control diabetes, lose weight, and improve your bowel functioning.

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Some studies have even shown that good fibre intake is related to reduced rates of some types of cancer, most notably colorectal cancer.

Fibre is the part of plants that your body cannot digest and therefore does not absorb. It is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. There are two types of fibre, insoluble and soluble, which are defined by their ability to dissolve or not dissolve in water.

Insoluble fibre, such as bran, is the type that promotes the movement of material through the bowel and increases the stool bulk.

Soluble fibre dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. This type of fibre slows the passage of food through the digestive system and is known to lower cholesterol and glucose levels. Gums such as oatmeal and fruit pectins are examples.

Often food sources contain both insoluble and soluble fibre.

If you want to increase the amount of fibre in your diet, start slowly by adding an extra serving of high-fibre food every second or third day.

Adding too much fibre too fast will result in adverse effects like bloating, abdominal pain, gas, constipation, or even diarrhea.

Also don’t forget to drink enough fluids to ensure the fibre doesn’t get “stuck” in your bowel. Some fibre supplements actually need to be added to water before taking.

Processing food removes much of the fibre. For example, an apple has more fibre than does applesauce, which in turn has more fibre than apple juice. Cooking can also reduce the fibre content, so cooked carrots contain much less fibre than do raw carrot sticks.

Whenever possible, don’t peel fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, peaches or potatoes because their skin has extra fibre.

Even then, in order to be sure you have enough fibre in your diet, you will need to read food labels. To see how much fibre you are consuming, keep track for a couple of weeks. And, if you need more fibre, try sprinkling high-fibre ingredients like bran or oatmeal on top of cookies, cakes or muffins before baking.

They will not only have added fibre, but have a crunchy texture. Choose brown rice, kidney beans, chick peas, and lentils when making casseroles, soups, or salads. For snacking, choose high-fibre foods like popcorn or nuts.

If you need a fibre supplement follow the instructions carefully. Some products need to be mixed with water. Others can be added directly to your morning cereal or even cookie or cake batters.

The adage an apple a day keeps the doctor away is certainly true when it comes to fibre, but don’t forget other fruits, vegetables, and grains too!

About the author

Contributor

Marie Berry is a lawyer/pharmacist interested in health and education.

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