Want a Healthy Gut? You Probably Need More Fibre

Written by Clare Carrick ANutr BHSc (Nutrition and Health Promotion)

Scientifically reviewed by Dr Fathalla Ali, PHD Paediatrics

20/08/2022

It doesn’t get much less ‘sexy’ than talk about fibre… For most people, the word ‘fibre’ probably conjures up images of Metamucil or Digestive biscuits, and is something you don’t really think about unless you’re a bit clogged up…But fibre can have some fairly dramatic impacts on our health, in more ways than you might imagine! As unsexy as it may seem, fibre is a bit of an health superhero, so let’s dig a little deeper into this unassuming nutrient…

 

What is Fibre?

Fibre comes from the edible parts of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains and can be grouped into two different categories, soluble fibre; found in foods like apples, cauliflower and dried beans; and insoluble fibre; found in things like oats, soybeans and wheat (1). Funnily enough, although fibre improves our health in many different ways, our small intestines are actually unable to digest it (1)! Once it reaches the large intestine, fibre is either fully or partially fermented, and this is when the ‘magic’ happens (1). 

 

One emerging fibre buzzword is the term ‘prebiotics’, which are becoming a hot topic in the gut health world. Although all prebiotics are fibre, not all fibres are prebiotic… Prebiotics help our gut bug communities thrive and prosper in their own special way, feeding the beneficial microbes that have been linked with increased health and well-being (2). 

 

Impact On Our Health

Contrary to popular belief, dietary fibre is not just about reducing constipation, though staying ‘regular’ is one of the many recognised benefits on human health (1). Including a decent amount of fibre in our diets has also been shown to reduce obesity by blocking fat absorption and helping reduce your overall energy intake, as well as lower the risk of developing diabetes, cancer and intestinal disease (1). 

 

Gut Loving Goodness

Our gut and its microbial inhabitants are massive fans of fibre too, especially prebiotic fibres, which are found mostly in soluble fibre food sources (1). Alongside the aforementioned pooping benefits, adequate fibre can also help to reduce ‘leaky gut’, where the walls of the small intestine lose their integrity, increasing susceptibility to certain diseases (1).  Fibre also helps to promote the growth of more beneficial bacteria, and halt the growth of less beneficial bacteria (1). Gut bugs ferment certain types of fibre to create short chain fatty acids, which have also been shown to help prevent diabetes, cancer, obesity and intestinal disease (1). If you ever end up needing to take antibiotics, which can deplete your gut microbiome, upping your dietary fibre intake can help preserve the existing beneficial gut bugs, sustain microbial diversity, and assist with the overall recovery of the gut microbiome (3).  

 

Are You Getting Enough? (Hint: Probably Not!)

Considering most people in Australia aren’t getting in the recommended servings of fruit and veg, it makes sense that our fibre intake is also lacking (4). In fact, the average fibre intake of adult Australians is 18.2g per day, falling way short of the recommended 25g for women, and 40g for men (5). 

 

Tips to Boost Your Fibre

  • Include more plant foods in your diet in general.
  • Aim for the least amount of processing for your foods (e.g. brown rice instead of white rice).
  • Choose whole grain breads instead of white bread.
  • Try legume or wholemeal pasta instead of white wheat pasta.
  • Add nuts and seeds to your breakfast cereal or snacks.
  • Eat whole fruits and vegetables rather than fruit or vegetable juices.

 

References

  1. He Y, Wang B, Wen L, Wang F, Yu H, Chen D, Su X, Zhang C. Effects of dietary fiber on human health. Food Science and Human Wellness. 2022 Jan 1;11(1):1-0. 
  2. Slavin J. Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. Nutrients. 2013 Apr;5(4):1417-35.
  3. Tanes C, Bittinger K, Gao Y, Friedman ES, Nessel L, Paladhi UR, Chau L, Panfen E, Fischbach MA, Braun J, Xavier RJ. Role of dietary fiber in the recovery of the human gut microbiome and its metabolome. Cell host & microbe. 2021 Mar 10;29(3):394-407. 
  4. Nour M, Sui Z, Grech A, Rangan A, McGeechan K, Allman-Farinelli M. The fruit and vegetable intake of young Australian adults: a population perspective. Public health nutrition. 2017 Oct;20(14):2499-512. 
  5. Fayet-Moore F, Cassettari T, Tuck K, McConnell A, Petocz P. Dietary fibre intake in Australia. Paper I: associations with demographic, socio-economic, and anthropometric factors. Nutrients. 2018 May 11;10(5):599.

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