Focus on Fitness: The many health benefits of dietary fibre

By Gloria Schwartz

Most of us don’t consume enough dietary fibre. Fibre comes from plants. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lentils, beans, seeds and legumes are examples of foods rich in fibre. Soluble fibre and insoluble fibre are both found in plant foods in different proportions and both serve important functions.

If you eat a diet rich in high-fibre foods, you should get a good balance of the two types of fibre. Fibre helps you feel satiated and therefore is good for weight management. Fibre helps with physiological, metabolic and immunological functions. It helps control blood glucose, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, digestion and your immune system.

Eating adequate fibre can prevent chronic diseases and reduce your risk of premature death. A meta-analysis involving 185 observational studies and 58 clinical trials with over 4,600 people was conducted. The researchers concluded that people who consume the most fibre are 15-30 per cent less likely to die from any cause compared to people who eat the least fibre; and have a 16- 24 per cent lower incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.

How much fibre should you consume daily? The study recommended 25-29 grams per day ( However, Health Canada recommends 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.

A high fibre diet, specifically from legumes, tomatoes and cooked green vegetables was found to be inversely associated with a significantly lower risk of developing colon polyps.

As with any changes, it’s wise to check with your physician before significantly increasingly your fibre intake, especially if you have health issues or iron deficiencies.

Most of us take in about half of the recommended amount of fibre. I had no idea what 25-29 grams of fibre means in terms of food. You can see the fibre content on processed foods’ nutritional labels, but such information is not always available on whole foods. Bags and cans of beans and lentils contain the nutritional information, as does a loaf of bread or a box of cereal, but fresh fruits and vegetables do not. You can use Google or a food app to look up individual foods and find out their fibre content.

I looked up some foods and prepared the following example which contains a total of 26 grams of fibre: an apple (four grams), one cup of raspberries (eight grams), one cup of broccoli (three grams), half a cup of black beans (seven grams) and one slice of whole wheat bread (four grams). Avocadoes, which are very popular these days for their healthy fat, contain about 12 grams of fibre. A mashed avocado on two slices of whole wheat toast for breakfast provides 20 grams of fibre.

The American Heart Association recommends you get your fibre from food, not from supplements. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends you eat a vegetable or fruit with every meal, choose whole grains over white and add one to two tablespoons of bran, high-fibre cereal, psyllium (a fibre made from the seeds of a plant called plantago ovata), bran buds, chia or ground flaxseed to your favourite cereal ( You can also add any of these healthful items to unsweetened yogurt, smoothies or oatmeal.

Only 30 per cent of Canadians age 12 and over report eating fruits and vegetables daily. Among females, girls age 12 to 17 eat the least produce and women age 35 to 49 eat the most. The opposite is found among males.

How do you know if you’re not getting enough fibre in your diet? You may have difficulty passing stool or may not be going regularly. Your stool may be hard and small. Fibre adds bulk to your stool. If you feel hungry right after a meal, your meal may have contained inadequate fibre. If you’re gaining unwanted weight, it may be due to a diet of highly processed food which is low in fibre and nutrients, and high in calories. Discuss any concerns with your doctor.

Too much dietary fibre, especially if you’re not used to it, can cause various issues such as bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea and ironically, constipation. It’s best to introduce fibre slowly into your diet and drink sufficient water.

Just like exercise, it’s never too late to start improving your eating habits. A registered dietician can you give you detailed advice on what to eat and what to avoid, portion sizes and other information based on your specific goals and health issues.