By Gaby Burt-D’Agnillo, BSc
Reviewed by Andrea Miller MHSc, RD, FDC
What is fibre?
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that passes through the digestive system without being digested or absorbed. Fibre is found mostly in plant foods including vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes (like beans, peas and lentils), nuts, and seeds. Unlike other nutrients – which are broken down and absorbed for fuel – fibre remains relatively intact as it passes through the body. So, why is fibre important? There are a range of health benefits that fibre provides, which make it a fundamental part of a healthy diet. Evidence suggests that adequate fibre intake can improve digestion and reduce the risk of developing chronic disease. Fibre can also help keep you regular, lower your cholesterol, and control your blood sugar. Consuming fibre-rich foods can increase feelings of fullness and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Fibre can be classified as soluble fibre or insoluble fibre:
Soluble fibre dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. The ‘good’ bacteria in our gut are able to digest and ferment soluble fibres, to use as fuel. Fibre from the diet that feeds our friendly gut bacteria are known as prebiotics. Foods that contain soluble fibre tend to have a lower glycemic index, and therefore help to control blood sugar levels. Soluble fibre can also bind to fats in the gut, reduce cholesterol absorption, and help to lower overall cholesterol levels. You can find soluble fibre in some fruits and vegetables, oats, barley, ground flax and legumes.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water, and therefore passes through the digestive system relatively unchanged. Most insoluble fibre is not fermentable, but functions primarily as “bulking agents” to promote regular stools and relieve constipation. Insoluble fibre is found in some vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and wheat bran.
The recommended daily intake of total fibre is 38 grams for men (19-50 years old), and 25 grams for women (19-50 years old). Many foods have a combination of soluble and insoluble fibre and consuming a variety of plant-based foods can help you reap the most health benefits. It is important to introduce fibre into the diet slowly, drink plenty of fluids with high-fibre foods, and stay physically active.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t forget about fibre! There are many staples already in your pantry and fridge that are fibre-rich. Here are some examples of high-fibre foods, and tips on how to incorporate fibre into everyday meals and snacks:
Fruit and Vegetables
- Fibre-rich fruits: pears, apples, berries, oranges, avocados, bananas, raisins.
- Fibre-rich vegetables: carrots, beets, broccoli, corn, artichoke, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, leafy greens.
- Enjoy fresh or frozen fruits at breakfast, on top of yogurt or high-fibre cereal.
- Incorporate fresh or frozen vegetables into your cooking, such as in pasta sauces, soups, and casseroles.
- Consume whole fruits instead of juice whenever possible. Juice contains much less fibre than whole fruits because the skin and pulp are removed.
Legumes, Nuts and Seeds
- Fibre-rich legumes: lentils, kidney beans, black beans, split peas, chickpeas, soybeans.
- Fibre-rich nuts and seeds: almonds, pistachios, walnuts, coconut, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds.
- Top soups and salads with crushed nuts or seeds.
- Try recipes that use nut flours (great for gluten-free baking!).
- Dried and canned legumes are easy to store and cook with.
- For a fibre-rich snack, spread hummus on top of whole grain crackers or flat bread, and serve with carrot sticks.
- Nearly all whole grains are high in fibre (oats, quinoa, barley, bran cereals, whole wheat pastas, whole wheat breads, brown rice, etc).
- Look for ‘whole grains’ as the first ingredient on the nutrition label.
- Substitute refined carbohydrates (like white pasta and white rice) with whole wheat or whole grain versions.
- Use whole wheat flour when making breads, muffins, pancakes, and other baked goods.
- Vegetable Quinoa Salad
- Sweet Chili Tofu Stir-Fry
- Hearty Vegetable Soup
- Curried Parsnip and Carrot Soup
- Berry Smoothie Bowl
Take Home Message
Getting enough fibre can be easy by incorporating a variety of plant-based foods into your diet every day. Soluble fibre provides many health benefits, and insoluble fibre helps keep you regular. Fibre is found in kitchen staples like vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. At the grocery store, look for foods that provide 2 to 4 grams of fibre per serving. During these trying times, embrace fibre as you cook at home! Share your fibre-rich recipes with us in the comments below.