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How to Boost Your Dietary Fibre Intake

Somi Igbene PhD ANutrJanuary 10, 2021

Nigerian diets (and Black ethnic diets in general), particularly in cities and urban areas, have increasingly become rich in processed foods and deficient in dietary fibre. These changes are increasing the rates of preventable diet-related diseases in Nigerian and Black communities. This article describes dietary fibre, its role in chronic diseases and simple ways to improve your intake.

 

How much dietary fibre (fibre) do you consume daily?

Not sure?

That’s okay, most people don’t know.

How much fibre should healthy adults eat daily?

Great, if you know the answer. If you don’t, you’ll find out later in the post.

According to recent data, Black American adult men consume approximately 15g of fibre daily while Black women consume 12.7g. Black adults in the U.K. consume approximately 15.4g.

Rural Africans consume > 43g of fibre daily, but urban Africans consume much less – 20.6g per day for men and 16.2g for women.

These rates of fibre consumption have critical health implications, which we’ll discuss further in this article. But before we explore them, let’s discuss the basics.

WHAT IS FIBRE?

Scientists haven’t reached a consensus on defining fibre because they regularly discover new compounds with fibre’s chemical properties, but without its health benefits, and vice-versa.

However, many scientists agree that dietary fibre is the edible, yet indigestible carbohydrate found in plant foods that partially or entirely ferments in the large intestine or colon.

TYPES AND SOURCES OF FIBRE

Fibre exists in two categories based on their ability to dissolve in water and how easily they ferment in your large intestine or colon.The two categories include:

Insoluble fibre

Insoluble fibre – doesn’t dissolve in water or ferment in the large intestine. It forms the bulk of your stool and promotes gut motility. Examples of insoluble fibre include cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.

Insoluble fibre is found in wheat bran, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits skins and some vegetables such as courgettes, green beans, celery and cauliflower.

Soluble fibre  

Soluble fibre dissolves easily in water to form a viscous gel that can partially or entirely ferment in your large intestines to form gases and by-products such as short-chain fatty acids. Soluble fibre is present in the inner flesh of plants. Examples of soluble fibre include pectin, gums and mucilages.

Soluble fibre is present in fruits, oats, barley, beans, beans, lentils locust bean gum, guar gum and vegetables such as broccoli and carrots.

A third type of fibre – functional fibre also exists. These are commercially produced and consist of isolated non-digestible carbohydrates. They are added to food because they have beneficial physiological effects in humans.

Examples include resistant starch, polydextrose, indigestible dextrins, and inulin.

Many of these fibres are also known as prebiotics. Prebiotics encourage friendly bacteria in the gut to grow and maintain gut health.

Boost your fibre intake

WHY IS FIBRE IMPORTANT

CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD), including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and hypertension are a leading cause of death worldwide. According to epidemiological studies, high-fibre diets lower the risk of CVD.

High-fibre diets, especially those that include whole grains such as oats and buckwheat, promote healthy blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), and LDL-cholesterol levels and lower stroke risk.

Soluble fibre binds to cholesterol molecules in the small intestine, prevents absorption, and helps prevent coronary heart disease.

 

TYPE 2 DIABETES

Type 2 diabetes is 2-4-fold higher in Black and minority ethnic populations compared with Caucasian populations. High intakes of dietary fibre significantly reduce type 2 diabetes rates.

High-fibre diets improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity. And they reduce the amount of insulin and oral drugs that people with type 2 diabetes use.

 

OBESITY

Obesity is significantly higher in Black and minority ethnic populations compared with Caucasians populations. African Americans are 51% more likely to obese than Caucasians.

Obesity is a risk factor for many metabolic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression, disability and premature death. Numerous epidemiological studies associate high-fibre diets with a lower risk of obesity.

However, results from randomised controlled trials are limited and inconsistent. But this could be due to differences in study design, the populations studied, and the type and amount of whole-grain foods the study participants consumed.

High-fibre diets improve satiety and promote weight loss, which helps to lower the risk of obesity.

 

GUT HEALTH

Your gut flora protects you from harmful bacteria. It also maintains your intestinal membranes’ health and produces nutrients such as biotin and beneficial short-chain fatty acids. The central bacteria populations in your gut include Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Actinobacteria.

The quantities of these bacteria need to remain balanced for gut health. When they become unbalanced, your risk of several diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity increases.

Dietary fibre influences the composition of bacteria in your gut. With high fibre intakes, the quantity of beneficial short-chain fatty acid (SCFA)-producing bacteria increases.

SCFA from bacteria lower your risk of metabolic diseases by improving your insulin sensitivity and lowering cholesterol.

High dietary fibre intakes also increase the diversity or richness of your gut flora. The more diverse your gut flora is, the more resistant you are to infections, diseases and the harmful effects of medication like antibiotics.

 

COLORECTAL CANCERS

The incidence of colorectal cancers is rising in the Black community, especially among younger adults. Blacks have the highest incidence and death rates of colorectal cancer than other ethnic groups in the United States.

High fibre intakes may reduce the number of carcinogens in stool, reduce transit time and increase the production of SCFA with anticancer properties.

Indeed, previous studies show that high fibre intakes, particularly from whole-grains and fruit, are associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancers.

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HOW MUCH FIBRE DO YOU NEED?

 The amount of fibre you need varies depending on your age and gender. In the U.K., Government guidelines recommend that adults consume at least 30g of fibre per day.

In the United States, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) provides the following daily recommendations:

  • Men 19–50 years: 38g
  • Women 19–50 years: 25g
  • Men > 51 years: 30g
  • Women > 51 years: 21 g

 You can get enough fibre by adding more plant-based foods to your diet

If you consume more than 50-60g of fibre per day, you may lower your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals, particularly zinc, magnesium, and calcium. You may also develop bloating, gas, diarrhoea and constipation.

 

THE BEST SOURCES OF FIBRE

Minimally processed foods with naturally occurring fibre are the best sources because they contain a mix of insoluble and soluble fibres and other nutrients that contribute to your health.

Beans and lentils are the most fibre-dense foods. Other good sources include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Below is a list of foods and their fibre content.

Food Serving size Dietary Fibre (grams)
BEANS AND LENTILS

Black bean, cooked

Borlotti beans, cooked

Broad beans, cooked

Cowpeas, cooked

Kidney beans, cooked

Lentils, cooked

Locust beans (iru)

Haricot beans, cooked

Peanut butter, smooth

Pigeon peas, boiled

Soya beans, cooked

Split peas, cooked

 

½ cup

½ cup

100g

100g

½ cup

½ cup

100g

½ cup

2 tablespoons

100g

½ cup

½ cup

 

7.5

7.7

10.5

5.7

5.5

7.8

4.1

9.6

1.6

7.5

5.2

8.1

VEGETABLES

Amaranth leaves, cooked

Artichoke, cooked

Asparagus, cooked

Baobab leaves, cooked

Broccoli, cooked

Carrots, raw

Cassava

Cocoyam leaves, cooked

Collard greens

Eggplant

Cassava, dried (Garri)

Green beans

Green peas, cooked

Lettuce, shredded

Mixed vegetables, canned

Okra, cooked

Plantain

Potato, baked with skin

Pumpkin, canned

Spinach, raw

Sweet potato, baked with skin

Tomato, ripe

Turnip, cooked

Winter squash

Yam

 

100g

½ cup

½ cup

100g

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

100g

½ cup

100g

100g

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

1 medium

½ cup

1 cup

1 medium

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

1 cup

 

1.4

4.8

1.8

2.5

2.6

1.7

1.9

0

3.8

2.0

1.9

2

4.4

0.5

2.4

2.0

1.7

2.9

3.6

0.7

3.8

1.1

1.6

4.5

5

FRUITS

Apple with skin

African star apple (Agbalumo)

Akee, with skin, raw

Avocado

Bananas

Baobab

Blueberries

Breadfruit, raw

Cantaloupe, cubed

Coconut

Dates, chopped

Figs, dried

Guava, raw

Orange

Mango, without skin

Papaya (Pawpaw)

Peach

Pear

Pineapple

Plums

Raspberries

Soursop

Strawberries, whole

Watermelon

 

1 small

100g

100g

½ cup

1 medium

100g

½ cup

100g

½ cup

½ cup

¼ cup

¼ cup

100g

1 medium

½ cup

152g

1 medium

1 medium

½ cup

¼ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

100g

 

3.6

4.3

2.4

5g

3.1

6.8

1.8

1.9

0.7

3.5g

3.7

3.7

5.6

3.1

1.3

3.0

2.2

5.5

1.2

1.9

4.0

3g

1.4

0.1

WHOLEGRAINS

Bran flakes

Bread, white

Bread, wholemeal

Bulgur, cooked

Oatmeal, cooked

Pearl barley cooked

Quinoa, cooked

Rice, brown, cooked

Rice, white, cooked

Rye crispbread

Shredded wheat

Spaghetti, wholewheat, cooked

 

¾ cup

1 slice

1 slice

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

½ cup

2 slices

1 cup

170g

 

5.5

1.8

3.4

4.3

2.0

3.0

2.5

1.9

0.3

3.0

6.1

5.6

NUTS AND SEEDS

Almonds

Chia seeds, dry

Flaxseeds

Sesame seeds

Sunflower seeds

Walnuts

 

30g

1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon

 

3.5

4.9

2.8

1.3

1.0

1.9

* Foods in bold denote tropical produce

5 WAYS TO ADD MORE FIBRE TO YOUR DIET

If your fibre intake is currently low, increase your intake gradually to avoid stomach discomfort. When you add fibre to your diet, drink plenty of water alongside to improve digestion.

You can increase the fibre content of your meals with these simple tricks:

1 | Choose fibre-rich breakfast cereals that contain at least 5g of fibre per serving. All-bran, bran flakes and oatmeal are good options. Top your cereal with fruits, seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds), nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios) or wheat bran to boost your fibre. When eating toast, opt for wholemeal options and top with eggs, avocado, spinach or kale.

2 | Use whole-grains instead of refined grains predominantly. E.g. choose brown rice, red or purple rice instead of white, polished rice. And bake with wholewheat flour instead of white flour.

3 | Aim for at least five, 80g portions of fruits and vegetables per day. Add a salad or cooked vegetables to your lunches and dinners.

Eat your fruits and vegetables with their skin on where possible. One whole apple without the peel contains only 1.7g of fibre, whereas a whole apple with its skin on has 3.3g of fibre. Similarly, a medium-sized potato with the skin on contains 3.8g of fibre, while a skinless potato contains 2.3g.

4 | Choose fibre-rich snacks such as raw veggies (carrots, cucumbers), whole fruits (including dried fruits), plain popcorn, or a small handful of nuts and seeds. Granola bars may be a good option but be careful of their sugar content.

5 | Eat beans, peas and lentils frequently. A ½ cup serving of legumes and lentils provides up to 8g of serving. Add beans and lentils to stews and casseroles. Mix them with pasta or rice, use them as a topping for toast or make dips to eat with raw veggies.

 

You Now Know How to Boost Your Fibre Intake!

So, you no longer have to be among the population with suboptimal fibre intakes.

Remember to increase your fibre intake gradually, or you risk upsetting your stomach. Eating so many vegetables and whole-grain foods may seem complicated and strange initially, but you’ll begin enjoying them, and you’ll wonder why didn’t start sooner.

Have fun!

 

REFERENCES

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  3. Chan, Y-M., Aufreiter, S., O’Keefe, S.J., and O’Connor, D.L (2019) Switching to a fibre-rich and low-fat diet increases colonic folate contents among African Americans. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 44(2), 127-132.
  4. Pretorius, S (2012) Feeding the emergence of advanced heart disease in Soweto: a nutritional survey of black African patients with heart failure. Cardiovascular Journal of Africa, 23(5), 245-251.
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  7. Krueger, P.M and Reither, E.N (2016) Mind the Gap: Race/Ethnic and Socioeconomic disparities in obesity. Current Diabetes Reports, 15(11): 95
  8. Lincoln, K.D., Abdou, C.M., and Lloyd, D (2014) Race and socioeconomic differences in obesity and depression among Black and Non-Hispanic White Americans. J Health Care Poor Underserved, 25(1), 257-275
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