Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Stacy Spensley.

Here’s a fun fact: The adult digestive system can be up to 30 feet (9.1 metres) – about the same length as five refrigerators stacked up on top of one another. Every inch of it is important for breaking down our food and absorbing it to provide nutrition and energy.Eventually any undigested food passes through the body and is eliminated as stool. Parts of plants cannot be absorbed or digested is dietary fibre and is helpful for keeping things moving along as they should.

The body’s digestive system is an average of 30 feet (9.1 metres) long. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Thomas Hawk.

There are two main sources of fibre:
• Soluble fibre dissolves in water becoming sticky or gel-like. It adds thickness to stool, which slows down the movement of food along the digestive tract. Think oats, oat bran, barley, psyllium, oranges, beans, chickpeas and lentils. Some types of soluble fibre may also help lower the risk of heart disease, blood cholesterol and control blood sugar.2
•  Insoluble fibre tends to come from the tougher parts of plants (like the skin) and is also called “roughage.” Insoluble fibre helps move stool through your bowel which can contribute to keeping your digestive tract healthy. Wheat bran, whole grains, vegetables and fruit are a few examples.3

Both soluble and insoluble types can be found in vegetables and fruits like broccoli, carrots, apple, pear, whole grains, such as oatmeal or whole grain rice, legumes like beans, peas and lentils, as well as nuts and seeds.

Nuts have both insoluble and soluble fibre. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Marco Verch.

How can I get enough fibre?

How much fibre you need usually depends on your age and gender.  On average, adults need between 21-38 grams fibre per day; however, most Canadians do not get enough.2,4,5

Females Males
Less than 51 years of age 51 years of age or older Less than 51 years of age 51 years of age or older
Daily requirements 25 grams 21 grams 38 grams 30 grams

 

For packaged foods, look on the label to determine if a product is a source of fibre and to what degree it might meet your daily fibre goals.6 Some of the phrases you might see include:

 

•  Source of fibre = 2 g or more per serving
•  High source of fibre = 4 g or more per serving
•  Very high source of fibre = 6 g or more per serving

The nutrition facts table on the label show how much fibre a product has. To help you meet recommended daily requirements, choose foods with 15 percent daily value (DV) or more per serving for fibre.Remember that this value is the amount per serving amount reflected on the nutrition facts table, not necessarily the same in how much you are actually eating.

Bran cereal is one example of a food that is considered a high source of fibre. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Emily Heath.

 Top 4 reasons why you need fibre

  1. To keep your bowels moving
    Insoluble fiber holds onto water, it adds bulk and moisture to your stools. This helps ease the passage of stool along your digestive tract, promoting the regularity of bowel movements. Getting enough fibre may prevent and manage diarrhea and constipation.
  2. To maintain your weight
    Both soluble and insoluble fibre may help with weight management and controlling food cravings by promoting a feeling of being full.8,9,10,11Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables to help boost up your fibre at meals.
  3. To lower your cholesterol
    Soluble fibre helps to lower blood cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol in the gut and eliminating it through the stool. Try incorporating a soluble fibre like oatmeal into your breakfast routine.
  4. To control blood sugar levels
    Soluble fibre may also help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down the movement of food along the digestive system, preventing large “spikes” in blood sugar levels after meals. Choosing carbohydrates which are high in soluble fibre and lower on glycemic index (GI) at our meals and snacks may be beneficial for blood sugar levels. GI is a ranking of foods and how much they affect blood sugar levels where low GI foods are more slowly digested causing a slower rise in blood sugar levels.12Aim for one fist of carbohydrate containing foods like whole grains, starches or fruit at each meal.

Where can I get more nutrition support?
Registered dietitians are regulated health professionals with university degrees who can help you understand how to make personalized nutrition changes to meet your nutrition and health goals. Book directly with a Shoppers Drug Mart registered dietitian for personalized nutrition services from the comfort of your couch at shoppersdrugmart.ca/dietitians. Registered dietitian services are also available in-store at select Wellwise locations and Shoppers Drug Marts in the Burlington and Oakville region. Contact pto@shoppersdrugmart.ca to book directly.

References:
1. American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. (2014). Quick Anatomy Lesson: Human Digestive System.
2. Dietitians of Canada. (2017). Unlock Food: Focus on Fibre.
3. MedlinePlus (2018). Soluble vs. insoluble fiber.
4. Dietitians of Canada. (2017). Unlock Food: Getting More Fibre.
5. Dietary Reference Intakes: Definitions. (2010).
6. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2018). Dietary Fibre Claims.
7. Government of Canada. (2017), Fibre.
8. Wanders AJ, van den Borne JJ, de Graaf C, et al. (2011). Effects of dietary fibre on subjective appetite, energy intake and body weight: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Obes Rev. 12(9):724-739.
9. Burton-Freeman B. (2000). Dietary Fibre and Energy Regulation. J Nutr. 130(2):272S-275S.
10. Clark MJ, Slavin JL. (2013). The effect of fiber on satiety and food intake: a systematic review. J Am Coll Nutr. 32(3):200-211.
11. Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. (2001). Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 59(5):724-739.
12. The University of Sydney. (2017). About Glycemic Index.