What is fibre and why do we need it?

Fibre is the backbone of plant foods such as wholegrains, vegetables and fruits. It’s a type of carbohydrate that remains undigested in your gut and goes “straight through”, brushing your gut clean and keeping your digestive system healthy.

Most of us only think about eating extra fibre when we get constipated, but actually fibre has many other benefits – check them out here. Recent research shows that many Australians are not aware of this, and are not eating anywhere near enough.

What does fibre do in the body?

Most foods we consume – such as fats, proteins and carbohydrates – are easily broken down in our bodies. Dietary fibre is the part of plant foods that mostly passes through your digestive system without being broken down or digested, and is vital for normal digestive function. We rely on our gut microbes to digest the fibres for us. 

What are the three types of fibre?

There are three main types of fibre. All are important! Soluble fibre is found in fruit and veg, oats, barley and legumes. Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrain breads, cereal, nuts, seeds, wheat bran and fruit and veg skin (this is the fibre that keeps us regular). Insoluble fibre also plays a critical role in carrying other fibres through the length of the digestive system. Lastly, resistant starch is found in wholegrains, legumes, green bananas, and cooked and cooled potatoes.

How much fibre should I be eating?

Adults in Australia should eat 25g-30g of fibre of day– and up to 40g for people with diabetes and for those trying to improve heart health. Typically, Australian women eat just 21.1g of fibre a day and men 24.8g / New Zealand adults eat just 20g per day.

Sanitarium dietitian Angela Saunders says our low fibre consumption is a "significant deficiency in our overall diet". 

"Most grains that Australians eat are refined," Angela says. "When grains are refined, the bran and germ are removed and, along with that, most of the goodness of the grain.  "To increase fibre intake, we need to include more wholegrains in our diet."

How can I increase the amount of fibre in my diet? 

Happily, the answer is not all bran muffins and psyllium husks (although they are certainly going to help). Adding more fibre to your diet is easy. 

  1. Switch to wholegrains – Wholegrains contain all three layers of the grain. When those layers are removed, up to 70% of the nutritional benefit is also removed. Make the switch to wholegrain bread, rolls or wraps, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereal and pasta and unprocessed flour.
  2. Add plant foods to your diet – A wide variety of plant foods, such as fruitvegetableslegumes nuts and seeds can help significantly increase your fibre intake. 
  3. Do not skip breakfast – Eating a breakfast with wholegrain cereal, such as wheat biscuits or traditional oats, or wholegrain toast, helps to set you up well for the day, easily boosting your fibre intake.  
  4. Go nuts – By simply sprinkling some nuts and/or seeds on your cereal, salads or yoghurt, you’re boosting your daily fibre. Try some chia seeds on your cereal or some pepitas on your salad. 
  5. Mix it up – Fruit and vegetables are a great source of fibre and there are so many to choose from. Check out what’s in season for a tasty and affordable fibre fix and to try something new give persimmons, pomegranates, custard apples and savoy cabbage a go.  

A sudden increase in fibre

While we need to boost our fibre intake, a word of caution. Increase your fibre intake gradually, as a sudden increase in fibre may lead to abdominal discomfort associated with bloating. So up your dietary fibre gradually – and remember to drink plenty of water.

Which foods are high in fibre?