One thing is certain –– millions of doses of laxatives we swallow each year wouldn't be needed by most people if we ate more fibre. But getting everything working like clockwork isn't the only reason to check your fibre intake. A high-fibre diet also has a role to play in protecting us from
Try the fibre quiz to see how your fibre intake measures up. If yours falls short, check our fibre-boosting tips for how to boost it without munching on bran all day.
What is fibre?
Fibre is made up of a number of components of plant foods that aren't digested in the small intestine like other nutrients. However, fibre can be broken down to some extent by bacteria in the large intestine.
There are two main types: insoluble fibre and soluble fibre. A more recent addition to the fibre stable is resistant starch which, while not traditionally thought of as 'fibre', has been found to act in a similar way.
All plant foods –– vegetables, fruit, legumes and grains –– contain a mixture of fibres, and each type plays an important role in the body.
Main types of fibre
Insoluble fibre. This is the type of fibre you probably first think of –– it's important to prevent constipation and associated problems like haemorrhoids. It works by providing bulk to the diet and speeds everything through the bowel. It can also have an influence on the bowel bacteria, which may help prevent bowel cancer.
Soluble fibre. This type of fibre has started to get a reputation for preventing heart disease. It's made up of things like pectin in fruit and gums in grains such as oats and barley, and legumes. It can lower cholesterol levels in the body and help with constipation, too. There's usually much more insoluble fibre in plant foods than soluble so if you're after a cholesterol-lowering effect, you need to take care to include high-soluble-fibre foods.
Resistant starch. Starch is found in many plant foods and has always been thought to be completely digested by the body's normal digestive system. However, we now know that some starch doesn't get digested and ends up as food for bacteria in the large intestine. It's thought to act in a similar way to traditional fibre to improve bowel health. Resistant starch is in foods such as unprocessed cereals and grains, firm bananas, lentils, potatoes and especially in starchy foods that have been cooked then cooled (such as cold potatoes or rice). 'Hi-maize', added to foods such as some white breads and cereals, is also a type of resistant starch.
How much do you need?
Most people only eat about two thirds of the fibre they need. At least 30 grams a day is the recommended amount for adults. Aim to get it from a variety of foods because each of the different types of fibre is important to different aspects of your overall health.
See our tips below to help boost your intake.
Kids and fibre
It's important that kids get enough fibre, although Australian guidelines don't specify an exact amount. The child's age plus 5 to 10 grams per day is a good amount to aim for.
Fibre boosting tips
- Choose wholemeal or wholegrain breads, or try fibre-boosted white breads. Look for 'high in fibre' on the label.
- Choose a high-fibre breakfast cereal.
- Use wholemeal flour in cooking and choose wholemeal pasta and brown rice rather than white.
- Choose fresh fruits rather than fruit juices and don't peel fruit if it's not necessary.
- Add beans, barley or other whole grains to soups, casseroles and rissoles.
- Don't rely on plain lettuce-based salads for your fibre. Also, use cooked, cold wholegrains, and include beans or lentils, too. Cold potato has more resistant starch than when it's first cooked.