Did you know there’s more than one type of dietary fibre?
Eating a wide range of plant foods will help you meet all your needs.
Fibre is important in your diet and most people don’t eat as much as they should. In addition to eating enough fibre, you also need to eat enough of the different types of fibre. That’s because not all fibres function exactly the same way – different types of fibres have different effects on the body. So, just as you should aim to eat a wide range of foods in order to get a wide array of nutrients, a varied diet helps to provide you with enough of the different types of fibres, too.
What Is Fibre and How Much Do You Need?
Fibre is the structural component of plant foods, so it’s found in vegetables, whole fruits, beans and grains (like corn or brown rice) – there’s no fibre in meats, fish or poultry.
Fibre, of course, helps move the digestive process along, but high fibre foods also provide the sensation of fullness, so they help with hunger control. And certain fibres also support the growth of friendly bacteria in your digestive tract.
If you don’t eat as much fibre as you should, it’s best to increase the amount you eat gradually over a few weeks. Adding too much fibre to the diet in a short period of time might lead to abdominal discomfort and gas, so take it slowly to allow your system time to adjust.
Also, drink plenty of liquid to allow the fibre to soften and swell.
Different Types of Fibre: What Are They and What Do They Do?
There are two broad classes of dietary fibre – soluble fibres and insoluble fibres.
Soluble fibres are found in the highest concentration in apples, oranges, carrots, potatoes, oats, barley and beans. Soluble fibres dissolve in water and thicken up. If you’ve ever cooked oatmeal at home, you probably noticed it got thick and gluey as it cooked. That’s because the soluble fibre in the oats dissolved in the liquid.
When these fibres come in contact with the liquid in your stomach, they swell up and thicken, too, which is why they help keep you full. Soluble fibre slows the absorption of glucose (sugar) from the blood stream and it can help to keep blood sugar levels more even throughout the day.
Insoluble fibres also support the health of your digestive system, but in a different way. Insoluble fibres don’t dissolve in water – instead, they simply absorb water in the lower tract, which makes the fibre more bulky. This type of fibre, found in the highest concentrations in vegetables, wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran and most other whole grains, speeds the passage of waste through your digestive system, so it helps to keep you regular.
How Can You Tell If a Fibre Is Soluble or Insoluble?
It’s actually fairly easy to tell the two fibres apart. When you make barley soup or boil potatoes, you can easily see how the liquid thickens up – that’s because barley and potatoes are high in soluble fibre. On the other hand, when you cook brown rice – a whole grain that’s rich in insoluble fibre – it doesn’t get sticky because the fibre doesn’t dissolve. Instead, it simply absorbs water as it cooks, causing the grains to swell up.
Tips for Increasing Fibre Intake
- Eat whole fruits with skin more often than fruit juices
- Use whole fruit as a dessert
- Eat a variety of whole vegetables – cooked and raw – and eat them freely
- Use 100% whole grain breads instead of those made with refined white flour
- Use corn tortillas rather than flour
- Use brown rice, wild rice, millet, barley and cracked wheat as alternatives to white rice
- Add beans to main dish soups, stews, chilli or salads.