Why Australians are missing out on fibre

Whether whole grains or vegetables, our bodies need fibre or roughage for a host of health reasons (bet you knew this already). Here are the five top ones:

1. Fibre keeps you ‘regular’ and overcomes constipation. It’s the first thing you should increase if you get constipated. Fibre provides the bulk our digestive systems need to move food through the gastrointestinal tract. Don’t forget, though, that fibre needs water! Water helps it to swell, keep its bulk and produce soft, easy-to-pass stools.

2. Fibre creates a healthy flora in your gut (also known as a microbiome). Fibre is often known as a pre-biotic, which means it provides fuel for those pro-biotic bacteria – the friendly or good gut bacteria – which scientists are finding out are crucial to our wellbeing in.

3. Soluble fibre from oats, barley, lentils and other legumes (pulses) helps the body flush out cholesterol. So if your cholesterol is up, increase your fibre intake as part of your cholesterol management.

4. Fibre helps prevent many illnesses that occur as we age, such as diverticulitis, gallstones, colon cancer and haemorrhoids.

5. Fibre slows down your digestion, which allows your body more time to absorb the nutrients and also slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream which is important for those with diabetes.

Where our fibre comes from
New research has shown that most of us are missing out on these great benefits.

In the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of Wollongong found that most Australians only take in half the fibre we need, most of the deficiency coming from poor refined or low-fibre grain choices. We could eat our way to better health by tapping into whole grains and high-fibre foods.

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Oatmeal porridge is the perfect winter breakfast if you're looking to up your fibre intake

According to Eden Barrett, lead researcher and dietitian, the highest contributors to cereal fibre are breakfast cereals (25 per cent of the total) plus bread and bread rolls (collectively 29 per cent). Surprisingly, hot oaty porridge only contributes 4 per cent.

At 6 grams a day, cereal fibre represented around one-third of all the fibre we consume. The rest comes from vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Legumes such as chick peas and baked beans, although rich, are not consumed in great amounts by the population – which is a shame.

Currently, we take in only around 17 grams, which is about half of what we should be aiming for at 30 or 40 grams per day.

Ways to get more fibre
Start with the easy and painless swaps, such as whole grain crackers over plain crackers or rice crackers or wholemeal rather than white bread or wraps (many today are not dense or mealy).

At breakfast:

  • Bowl of oats, muesli, high-fibre or whole grain cereal
  • Or sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons bran cereal or psyllium husks over your regular cereals
  • Baked beans on whole grain toast along with a poached egg and tomato

At lunch:

  • Mug of lentil and veg soup with a whole grain roll
  • Bowl of last night’s stir-fry chicken with lots of vegies plus brown rice

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Lamb and vegetables are a fantastic combo for a well rounded, high fibre dinner!

At dinner:

  • Lamb roast or grilled fish with vegetables such as parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots and teamed with cauliflower, broccoli or brussels sprouts

In betweens:

  • Handful of almonds, hazelnuts or mixed nuts
  • Trail mix of dried fruit and nuts
  • Fresh pear or mandarin or kiwi fruit

Slowly does it
If you currently have a diet low in fibre then take it slowly.

Increase your fibre intake a little at a time otherwise you may find yourself suffering from bloating, stomach cramps and wind – very unpleasant.

How do you get your daily fibre?

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Image credit: (feature) CP DC Press / Shutterstock.com; (in-text) Vladislav Noseek, Dani Vincek / Shutterstock.com.