Fibre is good for you — and not just for your digestion.
Eating more fibre can lower your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and is associated with a reduction in certain kinds of cancer, according to a new review of studies on the subject.
The paper, commissioned by the World Health Organization and published in the Lancet on Thursday, reviewed 185 prospective studies and 58 clinical trials that examined the relationship between total fibre intake and disease risk. It found that in randomized trials, higher fibre intake reduced body weight and lowered cholesterol.
The people who ate the most fibre had a 15 to 30 per cent decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular-related mortality, less heart disease and deaths from heart disease, and fewer instances of stroke, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. While these studies relied on self-reporting of nutrition intake, which can be unreliable, the review’s authors are confident in the results — which are consistent with previous research.
“Our findings provide convincing evidence for nutrition guidelines to focus on increasing dietary fibre and on replacing refined grains with whole grains. This reduces incidence risk and mortality from a broad range of important diseases,” said study co-author Jim Mann of the University of Otago in New Zealand.
According to the study, adults should be eating at least 25-29 grams of fibre every day. Unfortunately, the paper’s authors write, most people globally eat less than 20 grams per day. The more fibre people consumed, the better the health outcomes in general, the authors found.
WATCH: Most Canadians not getting enough fibre
“Canadians, the majority, we don’t get enough fibre in general,” said Lillian Yin, a registered dietitian and certified bariatric educator in Abbotsford, B.C.
Fibre is an indigestible material found in plants, said Yin. “Because we don’t digest it, fibre will keep us full for longer, give us more satiety, and it also helps with managing blood sugars and in weight management.”
Soluble fibre, which is a bit “gummier” and is found in things like oats and beans, can help to reduce cholesterol. Insoluble fibre, like the strings found in celery, helps with regularity and protects against colon cancer, so it’s a good idea to have both in your diet, she said.
If you’re thinking about adding more fibre to your diet, Yin advises going slowly. “It’s a little more tolerable for the gut as well and gives it time to adapt to the increased fibre intake.” Drinking lots of water will help too, she said.
When it comes to finding high-fibre foods, she suggests trying a variety of different things to see what you enjoy. “Higher-fibre foods tend to be more of an acquired taste,” she said. “Over time, the industry has produced lots of refined products which are richer in flavour, it’s less gritty, the texture is a little bit different and people get used to that.”
You will develop a taste for fibre, though, she said.
“You’re going to get used to it. And then it’s hard to go back.”
Some high-fibre foods include whole grains like brown or wild rice and whole grain bread. Yin suggests looking for breads that have at least three grams of fibre per slice.
“Having half your plate being vegetables whenever you can, that adds some extra fibre there,” she said, adding that legumes, nuts and seeds are also good sources of fibre.
Fibre can also come from a supplement, which might be useful for some individuals, Yin said. “I would always start with food first because the food doesn’t have an isolated nutrient. It’s also filled with lots of vitamins and minerals and other nutritious food components that might interact with each other in ways that we don’t know yet.”
Some supplements, she added, can also contain sugar or flavourings, meaning that people with diabetes might not want to use them. And psyllium husks from the bulk food section might be cheaper than packaged fibre supplements.
If you have specific questions or concerns about introducing more fibre into your diet, Yin recommends consulting a medical professional.