The Importance of Fibre. Are You Getting Enough?

May 6, 2015

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

The health food craze is a big marketing opportunity for food companies and is worth billions of dollars in the food industry. It is even common practice for restaurants to now list nutritional information right in the menu. Gluten free, diet, low fat, calorie wise, no fans fats, whole grain and reduced sodium on packaging are help sell food. One ingredient we need to be looking for in our food is fibre. This is for good reason. Fibre helps prevent and treat constipation, provides a feeling of fullness which can lead to less calorie intake, and more scientific evidence is mounting to prove it helps lower cholesterol. Increased fibre can even improve the symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome and is said to lower the risk of colon cancer.

Dietary fibre is the indigestible portions of food plants with two main parts. The first is soluble fibre, which gets fermented in the colon. During fermentation, soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel during digestion. This slows gastric emptying and delays the absorption of glucose, minimizing variances in blood sugar levels. By lowering LDL cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels, fibre is likely helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The second part is insoluble fibre, found in bran, whole grains and in the skins of fruit, which does not get broken down in the colon. Rather, insoluble fibre absorbs water in the digestive system and helps with passing stool. When the insoluble fibre absorbs water, it has bulking action, providing a feeling of fullness. The insoluble fibre also helps shorten transit time in the colon. Speeding up the passage of food through the digestive system facilitates regular defecation. Adding bulk to the stool reduces constipation. Both soluble and insoluble fibre increase food volume without increasing calories. This is what provides the feeling of fullness and is what is believed to reduce appetite.

Fibre is found naturally in many foods such as legumes, flax, oats, plum like fruits, apples, pears and bananas. However, getting enough fibre is not as easy as one may think. The Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation says a majority of Canadians are getting less than half the recommended amount of fibre in their diet. A healthy adult needs between 21 grams of fibre if you are a female and up to 38 grams per day for males.

Meeting the requirements sounds easy, but for many it is not. Two slices of white bread contain only 2 grams of fibre. Whole wheat and multigrain bread have 3 to 4 grams of fibre. Most cereals only contain 1 to 3 grams of fibre per serving. However, some cereals contain up to five grams of fibre. As a challenge, when you are at the grocery store see how many cereals you can find with more than 5 grams of fibre per serving.
Food companies are allowed to put a source of fibre on their labeling if a serving contains more than two grams of fibre. Rather than reading the front of the package, turn it around and read the nutritional label. Under carbohydrates, fibre and the amount in each serving will be listed. An apple or pear contains approximately 2 grams of fibre, while bananas have 1.5 grams. A 20 gram serving of raisins has 7 grams, while a handful of dried prunes can have over 10 grams of fibre. Dried fruit always contains more fibre per gram than fresh fruit because most of the fibre comes from the fruits skin.

If you are finding it hard to obtain enough dietary fibre there are supplements available. Metamucil is probably the most popular. It is a powder which is mixed with cold liquid to form a drink. One teaspoon of Metamucil in a cup of water can provide up to 5.4 g of fibre. Metamucil comes in unflavored powder, berry flavored and in orange flavor. It is also available in a sugar free formula. These products can be a little hard to blend with water, but when mixed well with cold water, they taste quite pleasant. The Metamucil brand also makes an oral capsule and a fibre bar which can make a good snack, while improving fibre intake.

If you need help planning a healthy diet with lots of fibre or want help to lose weight and have questions; stop by the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy and speak to your pharmacist. We can also refer you to a dietician if you need additional help. Next time you are writing your grocery list, add fibre to it.


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