Jenna Walker - Nutritionist
Find out what we mean by 'Dietary Fibre', how to increase your intake and why it is so good for our heart, body and bowels.
Dietary Fibre is listed as a nutrient on the Nutrition Information Panel of most food products. We are told it is good for us and we are encouraged to increase our intake - but how does Dietary Fibre actually help us?
Dietary fibre is known to ‘help keep us regular’ – this is because it promotes laxation (1.). Dietary fibre makes up part of the structure of grain and plant based foods. Some types of fibre are not easily digested by the body and instead pass into the large intestine and begin to ferment (similar to how yoghurt is produced). This fermentation produces healthy bacteria called prebiotics which help maintain a healthy and regular functioning bowel system. Dietary Fibre is able to bind with cholesterol in the bowel which is then removed from our system, instead of being re-absorbed into the bloodstream and body. Research shows that 2-3 grams per day of plant sterols (a type of dietary fibre) can help to lower cholesterol by up to 10% (3.). A 1% reduction in blood cholesterol is generally accepted to decrease Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) by 2% (1.).
Scientific evidence shows dietary fibre not only helps to reduce blood cholesterol, but it can also help regulate blood sugar levels (1.). Certain types of fibre, found in plant and grain foods, are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, and may help to protect against diabetes and colorectal cancer (2.). It then follows that an increased dietary fibre intake is linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and obesity (1.). Foods which have a high content of dietary fibre tend to be lower in energy per serve and help us to feel more satisfied after a meal (2.). Individuals who have a diet high in fibre may find it easier to maintain their weight than individuals with a lower intake (2.).
Now we know what ‘Dietary Fibre’ is and how it can positively impact the health of our heart, body and bowels – how much do we need and how can we improve our health by increasing our intake?
Most of us Kiwis are not getting enough fibre in our diet. The National Nutrition Survey found the average adult male in New Zealand had a dietary fibre intake of 22.1g, the average female had an intake of 17.5g, with most of this from bread, vegetables, root vegetables and fruit (4.). When we compare this to the daily recommendation for Dietary Fibre of 30-38g for men and 25-28g for females, you can see our intake falls short (1.).
Here are some good food sources and ways to increase your dietary fibre intake: Wholegrains, vegetables and fruits are good sources of dietary fibre. The Food and Nutrition Guidelines recommend we eat 6 serves of carbohydrate foods (preferably wholegrain) and 5 or more serves of vegetables and fruit per day (5.). Good sources of wholegrain carbohydrates include oats, wholegrain bread, brown rice, high fibre or bran based cereals, bran or rye flakes. Ensuring you include two pieces of fruit and three or more servings of vegetables each day can help you to meet your fibre needs. You can help increase your fibre intake by using oats, nuts, seeds, ground linseeds, ground LSA, bran flakes or rye flakes in your breakfast cereals. You can also add these to yoghurt and fruit; smoothies, casseroles and stews, or as a crusting on meats or bakes. Look out for claims on food products for higher fibre options – our food laws allow claims to be made on food packaging, including the dietary fibre content per serve (6.):
By looking out for front of pack claims like these you can easily compare similar food products and find one which is highest in dietary fibre.