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What is dietary fibre?

Dietary fibre plays an important role in human health. Besides maintaining bowel regularity and keeping you full, it can also lower blood cholesterol levels and prevent chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

But what exactly is dietary fibre and how does it keep you regular? In partnership with Metamucil, we look at the powerful carbohydrate and how it affects your overall health.

What is dietary fibre?

Dietary fibre, also known as roughage, is a non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. As it passes through the digestive system, it absorbs water and eases bowel movements while helping to eliminate toxic waste through the colon.

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. The former comes from sources like oats, legumes and psyllium, and it dissolves in water to form a gel-like material in the digestive tract.

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The latter does not dissolve in water, and it adds bulk to the stool. Both are found in varying amounts in most plant foods.

Canadian women need at least 25 grams of daily fibre, while the recommended amount for Canadian men is 38 grams. Yet most Canadians only consume about half that much.

When you “can’t go”

According to Dr. Gabor Kandel, professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, there is no such thing as “too much” fibre in a diet. When it comes to fibre, he is a firm believer in the more, the merrier.

“Most things in medicine have a downside and an upside. You take a drug, it’s got the possible side effect. But the idea is that the benefit will be greater than the potential side effects, so you take it,” he said.

“But with dietary fibre, everything that’s been studied about it shows it to be good. There’s really no downside other than a little gas or bloating.”

One of the biggest benefits of adding more fibre to the diet is that it softens stools and keeps bowels regular, explained Kandel. Fibre bypasses the small bowel and settles into the colon where it ferments — or “eats”— bacteria, which keeps the colon happy and balanced.

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“If you’re having irregular bowel movements, the first step is to try adding fibre. Give it 10 to 15 days, because it’s not like a drug that works immediately. You’ve got to give it time,” he said.

“You should try to add it slowly to your diet. The slower you add it, the less likely bloating and gas is going to bother you.”

How to eat more fibre

Making — and sticking to — lifestyle changes can be hard, as is adjusting to a diet that includes more fibrous foods. Add in partners, kids or extended families who aren’t fans of fibrous foods and it can be a recipe for disaster. That’s where taking a fibre supplement like Metamucil can be beneficial; it’s a simple and easy-to-take solution  that  increases fibre intake. Fibre supplements also provide additional benefits like promoting digestive health, helping to lower cholesterol to promote heart health and helping to suppress appetite when taken prior to a meal.

“Supplements like Metamucil with concentrated fibre give you more bang for your buck,” said Kandel. “You get the benefits of fibre by eating less of it.”

How fibre supplements work

More importantly, supplements are a rich source of soluble fibre, which, according to recent studies, creates less bloating and gas in the bowels than insoluble fibre. Soluble fibres like psyllium, the active ingredient in Metamucil, form a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that traps waste, and have been shown to offer greater relief in those with irritable bowel syndrome. The gel can also help trap bile acids, which prompts the liver to use up cholesterol to generate more bile acids, lowering cholesterol levels.

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“Fibre supplements like Metamucil are a very rich source of soluble fibre,” Kandel said. “Most foods don’t have as high a proportion of soluble fibre like psyllium; taking a supplement gives you that in the richest form.”

Looking to incorporate more fibre into your diet? Sign up at Metamucil.ca to take the Metamucil Two-Week Challenge. Just take Metamucil every day for two weeks in a row to experience how Metamucil promotes regularity and helps you feel lighter throughout your day.