Fibre: A rough encounter?

One of the nutritional benefits of following the nutritional recommendation to increase fruit and vegetable intake is the increase in fibre intake.

Fibre:    A rough encounter? 
Jeni Pearce, Health & Sports Dietitian
One of the nutritional benefits of following the nutritional recommendation to increase fruit and vegetable intake is the increase in fibre intake.  Over summer many of us enjoyed the abundant supply of fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, apricots, nectarines, peaches) and salad vegetables (tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, peppers).  As we move into winter these are replaced by potatoes, cabbage, kiwifruit and oranges.  Getting 5+a day fruit and vegetables helps protect the immune system to help ward off winter ills, keeps things regular and provide a valuable source of antioxidants. 
Fibre is a nutrient spread throughout the food groups.  Many New Zealanders fail to eat the recommended intake of foods from two important food groups –
  fruit and vegetables (5 or more servings) and the bread and cereal food group (at least 6 servings) – which lowers their fibre intake.  The low carbohydrate dieting fad has further added to the confusion. 
Young people and children need at least 4-6 servings of breads and cereals (varies with age) daily while adults are advised to eat a minimum of 6 servings of food from the bread and cereal group, with emphasis on wholegrains (that includes breads, crackers, breakfast cereals, rice, muffins, baking and pasta).  Potatoes belong in the vegetable group while nuts and legumes are part of the protein based meat and alternative food group. 
Fibre has a number of important roles in the body and is described as the part of plants eaten which resist digestion and absorption by the enzymes in the gut and totally or partly ferment in the large intestine (colon).   Many people view fibre as roughage, to clean or clear the digestive system out, but this is not how fibre works to assist our health.  Fibre provides bulk, helping us to eat fewer calories and to chew our food more thoroughly.  It prevents and treats constipation (a lack of fibre and fluids can cause this painful bowel condition).  Having a well functioning bowel reduces the risk of developing haemorrhoids, diverticular disease and irritable bowel syndrome.  Some forms of fibre are also known to lower blood cholesterol levels.  Fibre also assists in blood glucose management (especially for people with diabetes) by slowing down the speed at which carbohydrate is absorbed.  A lower glycaemic index of a food (wholegrain bread is lower than white bread) can be related to the fibre content.  Adding oats to baking, cakes and muffins is another way to boost fibre levels and also benefit blood glucose and cholesterol levels. 
Just as not enough fibre leads to bowel discomfort, too much causes problems (distension, bloating, discomfort and even diarrhoea) and may reduce the absorption of key nutrients (iron and zinc).  The key is moderation. 
Young children have a much smaller digestive tract and need smaller servings of fibre.  For young children take care with the amount of high fibre breakfast cereals, corn, kiwifruit, dried fruit, plums and prunes served over several days, which could undesirably increase bowel motions and be uncomfortable.  All children over 10 years can use wholegrain breads (use a mixture).  As a guideline children need 5g fibre + age (an 8-year-old needs 13g of fibre).  For adults 25-30g of fibre daily is recommended.  When shopping, look for foods providing 5g or more fibre per 100g as a guide.
To improve fibre intake, add fresh fruit to breakfast cereal, eat fruit for snacks, fill wholemeal or wholegrain sandwiches with salad options, add two or more vegetables to the BBQ or evening meal, use wholegrain crackers and more salsa, bean salad and hummus for snacks.  The key is to eat a range of different forms of fibre and spread these throughout the day. 

Comments (0)

Please login to submit a comment.