Dietary Fibre for Women: What you need to know
Dietary Fibre for Women: What you need to know
Did you know that most Canadian women are only getting about half of their recommended fibre intake per day? That’s right – most of us are not reaching the recommended 25 grams per day, which is a scary statistic being that fibre plays such an important role in our health! As a registered dietitian, I want to empower you to make informed (and practical!) food choices for yourself and when you’re menu planning for your family, and this involves educating you on the importance of fibre. In this post, I’m going to dive into all the benefits of fibre (there’s are many!) and help you to discover a few easy ways to ensure that you’re getting enough.
First off, what exactly is fibre and where does it come from?
Fibre is a nondigestible carbohydrate – often referred to as “roughage” or “bulk”, (not the most pleasant of terms!)—that is not actually digested by humans. To put it bluntly, it helps to create and form your stool.
There are two classifications of dietary fibre: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre: Soluble fibre dissolves in water, and as such will help pull water from the digestive tract, creating a gel-like substance that slows down digestion and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and even decrease cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre is often found in fruits and vegetables, as well as hemp hearts, chia seeds, beans, peas, certain grains like oats and barley, as well as psyllium husk.
Insoluble fibre: Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water, and instead provides bulk to the stool as it passes through the digestive system, which helps to prevent constipation. Both forms of fibre are important and beneficial. Foods rich in insoluble fibre include cereals and whole-grain foods like whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes. . As you can see, there’s quite a bit of overlap! Most high fibre foods contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which is kind of cool! My favourite fibre-rich foods include oats and lentils because they are super versatile and economical.
What Can Fibre Do for My Body?
This question should actually be “what can’t fibre do for my body?”. Seriously! From heart health to satiety, to mental health, and digestion, fibre plays a role in it all. When chatting with clients about their nutrition goals, my answer is often “increase fibre!”. As we know, health is complex and multifaceted. Nutrition is not the be-all-end-all, just like physical activity isn’t either. Health determinants also include things like sleep, mental health, genetics and more.
In my counselling practice I often see this scenario: a busy parent juggling snacks, naps, and tantrums, only to forget to nourish themselves throughout the day, and only munch on leftovers from their kids. Another scenario might be a busy employee working hard and multitasking all day at work, while ignoring their hunger, who then heads home only to raid the pantry before supper.
In both of these examples, fibre (and nutrition in general) is missing. Consuming fibre-rich foods helps to slow down digestion, stabilize energy levels and maintain the feeling of satiety (fullness) throughout the day. Fibre helps to add to the satisfaction into meals and snacks. This is important! Satisfaction includes both physical satiety as well as joy, and fibre lends itself mostly to the former. When we are properly satiated, our food choices tend to be more mindful. Is it ok to enjoy processed, higher sugar, lower fibre foods? Absolutely! But when you don’t include some fibre (and you pair that with being overly hungry), you might find that you overconsume foods that don’t offer that satisfaction component, and don’t reach that feeling of comfortable fullness. Understanding and honoring your hunger is one of the pillars of intuitive eating.
The importance of fibre for gut health
Another important benefit of fibre is that it helps with gut health. In other words, it feeds your beneficial gut bacteria! Fibre, in its functional state, is also known as microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (MACs). These complex carbohydrate MACs, which you are unable to digest, are instead digested by your microbiota and help to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs help your body maintain a healthier gut barrier, which is an important defensive line for your immune system. Protecting your gut lining not only means keeping harmful bacteria away, but also allows your gut to do its job in absorbing essential nutrients.
Fibre and mental health
Fibre also, believe it or not, can impact our mental health. The gut also plays an important role in the creation of feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine). The communication between the gut and brain is referred to as the gut-brain axis (GBA), which is thought to be in constant communication. Have you ever had a “gut-feeling?” This is not surprising as our guts are often referred to as our second brain! Keeping your gut healthy with getting enough fibre not only helps your digestion, but your mental health as well!
Fibre for Good Heart Health
When it comes to heart health, fibre is really important. This is one reason why meeting that recommended amount of 25 grams/ day--with a focus on 5-10 grams of soluble fibre/ day—is so important. Soluble fibre in particular may help to lower your total and “bad” (LDL )cholesterol by binding to cholesterol in the small intestine and removing it from the body. In addition to fibre’s cholesterol lower effects, there is also research suggesting a reduced risk of stroke, which is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Ways to Increase Your Overall Fibre Intake
Ok, so now that we know how important it is, how do we get enough?! My suggestion would be to find simple swaps that are realistic and satisfying.
Here’s what I mean:
- Choose large flake or steelcut oatmeal more often (1 cup has 4 grams). Hint – try this delicious blueberry and banana baked oatmeal.
- Mix in high fibre bran cereal to regular cereal (1/3 cup has 12 grams)
- Add chia seeds or ground flax to yogurt or smoothies (4 grams per tablespoon)
- Swap regular grains for whole grains (whole grain tortilla has 5 grams fibre, versus regular tortilla that has 2 grams of fibre)
- Choose a high fibre fruit (1 medium pear has 5 grams fibre, 1 medium apple has 3 grams of fibre)
- These sweet and salty chocolate lentil granola bars are a family favourite in my house!
- Add the veggies in a flavourful way! Choose high fibre veggies like broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, and kale. Don’t forget to add flavour and fixings. We are more likely to eat veggies if they taste delicious!
- Don’t forget fibre-rich protein. My favourite way to add extra fibre is by adding lentils to ground beef recipes (1 cup of cooked lentils contains 9 grams of fibre). You can also add chickpeas (1 cup has 11 grams of fibre) or edamame (1 cup has 8 grams of fibre).