The importance of fibre in your diet

Fibre and digestion

Are you eating enough fibre?

The typical Canadian diet does not supply enough dietary fibre. The average amount of dietary fibre intake is between 10 to 20 grams per day. A more beneficial and healthier amount would be 40 to 60 grams per day. In some African rural communities, the average daily fibre intake is 130 grams per day.

Fibre is the portion of plant foods not digested in the human digestive system. It is not broken down by digestive enzymes and passes through the small and large intestines. Bacteria in the colon can partially break down undigestible fibre.

Fibre is composed of long chains or polymers of different sugar or phenol molecules stuck together. It is mainly used in plants to give shape and form and maintain plant cell wall structure. Different types of fibre include cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin, pectin, gums and mucilages. The different fibres are classified as water soluble versus water insoluble. Wheat bran is an example of a fibre that doesn’t dissolve in water. Oat bran is a good example of one that easily dissolves in water.

Fibre increases stool bulk and increases intestinal transit time, or the time it takes food to move through the digestive system. It absorbs water, binds to toxins and removes waste material, as well as stabilizes blood sugar levels, decreases cholesterol and triglycerides and helps to maintain the normal healthy bacterial flora in the large intestine. Fibre is effective in treating constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel and other intestinal disorders.

Problems associated with a lack of dietary fibre include anal fissures, appendicitis, colon polyps, colon cancer, diabetes, diarrhea, diverticulitis, gallstones, hemorrhoids, hiatus hernia, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, stomach ulcers, tooth decay, ulcerative colitis and varicose veins.

Vegetables, cereals and grains, as well as fruit are the main sources of fibre. Although wheat bran is advertised as an excellent source of fibre, it is not unique nor is it as nutritious as fruits and vegetables or some other unprocessed cereals.

Forty-five percent of dietary fibre intake comes from vegetables, 35% from cereals, grains, legumes and beans and 20% from fruit.

A glass of water contains no fibre and the most part, foods like meat, chicken, fish, cheese, milk, yogurt contain do not contain fibre either. Processed sugar and honey don’t and other processed foods, like white bread, candy bars, ice cream, white rice and potato chips do not contain any meaningful amounts of dietary fibre.

But fruits and vegetables do. One medium-sized apple contains about 3.4 grams of fibre. One banana contains about 3.3 grams of fibre, a glass of orange juice 0.8 grams, a half cup of broccoli 2.2 grams, a half cup of baked beans 8.0 grams, a half cup of Raisin Bran cereal 4.4 grams and a cup of brown rice and white rice one gram and 0.2 of a gram respectively.

Wheat is a good source of insoluble lignan fibre. Whole wheat contains between 9% and 20% fibre content. One tablespoon of wheat bran contains about 4.0 grams of fibre. Of course, processed white flour contains less fibre than whole wheat. Wheat bran can contain gluten.

Oats are a great source of soluble beta glucan fibre and contain insoluble cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignans. One tablespoon of oat bran can contain up to 15 grams of fibre.

Psyllium is a plant that is rich in soluble mucilage fibre. The husks of the plant contain fibre and are commercially available as a powder in health food stores and pharmacies. Refined psyllium fibre is the main ingredient in the over-the-counter fibre supplement known as Metamucil. One tablespoon of psyllium contains about 5 grams of fibre.

Flaxseed is an excellent source of insoluble lignan fibre and omega oils. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 7.0 grams of fibre.

Lack of dietary fibre directly contributes to constipation and small hard stools. If you have a bowel movement that sinks to the bottom of the toilet bowl, you can be sure you lack dietary fibre. A healthy robust movement contains more fibre, is larger and softer and usually floats better.

As a caution, fibre supplementation without adequate amounts of water can lead to abdominal bloating and pains, just like concrete without water.

An easy way to make sure you are getting enough fibre is to eat whole grains, cereals, vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans. One half cup of whole grains and cereals, three to four vegetables, one to two fruits and a cup of beans or legumes will dramatically increase your dietary fibre intake.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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