Fibre: Are you getting enough?

It’s no secret that fibre is a healthy part of our diet, but many of us aren’t getting nearly enough on a daily basis. Fibre is crucial for a healthy gut flora, promoting healthy bowel movements, reducing cholesterol, preventing heart disease, cancer, kidney stones, and battling obesity. In this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about why fibre is so amazing, and how to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet.

How does fibre work?

Our bodies aren’t able to completely break down fibre, so as it travels through the digestive tract it has many unique effects. Fibre feeds bacteria in the large intestine, which can break it down and use it as an energy source, to keep the gut flora healthy. It also binds bile acids released from the liver so that they’re excreted rather than re-used. This causes your liver to use more cholesterol for digestive functions, reducing your total LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol. Fibre stabilizes blood sugar by slowing the rate at which your body absorbs glucose into the bloodstream. It also binds water in the gut and bulks up the stool, promoting healthy bowel movements.

How much fibre do we need?

According to Canadian guidelines, women need 25g of fibre per day and men need 38g per day. Unfortunately, most people are getting closer to 15g of fibre per day. It can be tough if you don’t know what foods to emphasize in the diet!

To give you an idea, here’s a day of adequate fibre intake for women:

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs with 1 cup of sautéed spinach and 1/2 avocado
  • Snack: Handful of almonds
  • Lunch: 2 cups of kale, 1/2 cup quinoa, veggies and salmon
  • Snack: Apple
  • Dinner: Chicken breast, 1 cup of broccoli, 1 small sweet potato
  • Dessert: 2 squares of dark chocolate
  • Total fibre intake: 25.4g

Here’s a more typical day of eating, providing a more common intake of 16g of fibre:

  • Breakfast: Whole grain cereal with almond milk and 1/2 cup berries
  • Snack: Greek yogurt
  • Lunch: Chicken soup and turkey sandwich
  • Snack: Piece of banana bread
  • Dinner: Chicken breast, green beans, carrots, and 1 cup of white rice
  • Dessert: Gelato
  • Total fibre intake: 16.0g

To boost the above daily intake to 25g, try adding 1 tbsp chia seeds to yogurt (5g fibre) and have a handful of almonds or dried chickpeas (4g fibre) instead of banana bread. Alternately, you could have a salad instead of soup (3-5g vs 0g fibre), and quinoa instead of white rice (6g vs 0.6g fibre).

Tips for making fibre-rich choices

  1. Read nutrition labels, and under “Carbohydrates” look for a breakdown of the amount of fibre and sugar per portion. Choose foods with high fibre and low sugar.
  2. Focus on whole grains, such as whole grain cereals and breads, and brown rice instead of their white counterparts.
  3. Include these top-fibre containing foods in your meals:
    1. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas
    2. Nuts and seeds
    3. Add chia seed and ground flax to salads, soups, cereals, and smoothies for a big boost. 2 tbsp of flax has 5g of fibre, and 2 tbsp of chia has a whopping 11g of fibre!
    4. Top veggies: avocados, artichokes, okra, and Brussels sprouts
    5. Top fruits: berries, figs, and Asian pears

Fibre supplements

It might seem challenging to eat enough fibre in a day, so patients often ask if I recommend taking a fibre supplement. I suggest avoiding fibre supplements if possible, as they often contain sweeteners, sugars, and synthetic additives. Instead, I advocate achieving your daily fibre requirements through food sources.

Education and awareness about what we’re eating goes a long way! I encourage you to track your fibre intake and make changes to your diet over the course of a few weeks, until getting enough fibre becomes second nature.