What’s the deal with fibre?

Fibre – we know we need it, but why exactly? Have a read of nutritionist Emma’s breakdown on this gut-lover, and don’t miss her top tips at the end!


What exactly is fibre? 

Dietary fibre is part of a plant cell; a carbohydrate that our body can’t break down and digest. 

This means fibre travels the whole way through our digestive tract, and stays relatively intact – unlike other foods that can be broken down by our body so the nutrients, like protein, are absorbed (1). This means fibre doesn’t actually provide us with energy. 

There are two main forms of fibre, soluble and insoluble fibre.

Soluble fibre acts like a sponge in our gut. It soaks up water to form a gel in our digestive tract to help us digest and absorb other nutrients more slowly. As a result, eating soluble fibre can help to stabilise our appetites, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels (2). Soluble fibre also helps to soften the contents of our gut to help it move through the digestive tract with more ease. 

Insoluble fibre on the other hand acts as a bulking agent. Not only does this bulk help us to feel fuller for longer, it also helps to ‘push’ food through our digestive tract, therefore keeping us regular (2). 

Fibre plays an important role in digestion and gut health, as well as in cholesterol and blood sugar stabilising, meaning eating fibre can work to protect us from diseases such as obesity, colon cancer, diabetes and heart disease (3, 4).

Although we can’t absorb fibre and utilise it as energy, our gut bacteria can! In fact, they thrive in an environment rich in fibre. Our gut microbiota partially metabolise and ferment some of the fibre (also known as prebiotics), which helps stimulate their growth and activity. A byproduct of this metabolism, short chain fatty acids, has been shown to have positive effects on our health such as our immune system, digestion and more (5). 

How does fibre affect our health? 

Eating high-fibre foods like grain foods, vegetables, legumes and nuts and seeds is linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, such as bowel cancer (6).

 How much fibre do we need daily? 

The New Zealand Ministry of Health suggests that adults should eat 25-30g of dietary fibre every day, and that ideally, to help prevent non-communicable disease (such as those listed above), women should have 28g and men should have 38g of fibre each day.

What does 30g of fibre look like? 

½ cup oats 2.1g
½ can chickpeas6.8g
1 cup cooked brown rice 3.5g
2 slices whole grain bread5.2g
1 cup chopped broccoli 2.3g
1 kiwifruit2.1g

So, you can see you do need to be eating plenty of these whole foods to meet our daily fibre requirements! 

How can we increase our fibre intake? 

A diet rich in whole plant foods will be packed full of fibre. That’s because sources of soluble fibre include oats, legumes and fruits and vegetables, whilst insoluble fibre is found in wheat bran, nuts, seeds and the skins of fruits and vegetables – all of which are whole foods and plants.

3 top tips to up your fibre intake: 

  1. Aim for at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables
  2. When adding protein to your meal, consider legumes, nuts and seeds. They pack a fantastic fibre punch!
  3. Opt for whole grains over refined grains! Like brown rice over white rice. When choosing bread, pasta, rice and other grain-based foods choose whole grain options wherever possible.

Check out a few of our fave fibrous recipes:

Summer Bircher Muesli with Pineapple and Coconut

Beetroot, Lentil & Feta Salad

Coconut Red Rice Pudding

Meet the Nutritionist

Emma ‘Edamame’

Our in-house nutritionist Emma ‘Edamame’ was born and bred in mid Canterbury and has the health and wellbeing of Kiwis in mind at all times. As an NZ registered nutritionist (NZ Nutrition Society) with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Auckland, she makes sure we’re all getting our fresh dose of local veggies and our meals are full of nutritious substance – thanks for having our back Em (and our waistlines!). When it comes to New Zealand produce, Emma is a whizz, with fresh berries being her absolute fave. Intrigued to know what food this nutritionist couldn’t live without? Fresh fish and seafood, delivering on both flavour and nourishment. As well as ice cream, especially real fruit ice creams, in the summer time! Life’s all about a tasty balance, right?

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