6 health benefits of fibre and how to add more to your diet

Whole foods like vegetables and 100% whole grain bread are rich in fibre. Joey Hadden/Insider
    • Fibre has many benefits, especially for digestive health, and may even reduce the risk of colon cancer.
    • The FDA recommends women consume between 21 and 25 grams of fibre per day, whereas men should eat between 30 and 38 grams daily.
    • Fibre is easy to incorporate into your diet, as it’s found in many foods, like whole grain breads, berries, and nuts.
    • This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
    • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Fibre is more important to your diet than you might think, and chances are you’re not getting enough of it.

Most Americans only consume about half of the recommended amount of fibre they need, says Nate Favini, MD, an internist and Medical Lead at preventative care practice Forward. That’s because the average American diet is high in processed foods, which are often devoid of fibre.

Over the past 10 years, researchers have found fibre can improve your life expectancy and decrease your risk for certain health conditions. Meanwhile, not getting enough fibre can have an adverse impact on your health.

What is fibre?

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble.

Types of fibre

The FDA recommends women consume between 21 and 25 grams of fibre – soluble or insoluble – per day, while men should consume between 30 and 38 grams daily.

6 health benefits of fibre

Many of fibre’s health benefits relate to its ability to slow digestion. This can help with hunger control, stabilizing blood sugar, and much more. Here are six health benefits of eating a high-fibre diet and tips for easily adding it to your diet.

1. Fibre is important for gut health

The trillions of naturally-occuring bacteria in your gut feed on fibre as it’s digested. In fact, complex carbohydrates like the ones found in whole grains, beans, and legumes are some of your gut bacteria’s favourite things to feast on.

Gut bacteria, which collectively make up the “gut microbiome,” are important because they extract vitamins and minerals your stomach acid leaves behind. Your colon then absorbs nutritional building blocks such as Vitamin K, B12, thiamin, and folate and puts them to work in your bloodstream.

Researchers are just beginning to understand all that these hungry bacteria do. But a 2011 paper published in Surgical Clinics of North America found the gut microbiome supports metabolism, contributes to your immune system, regulates energy levels, and much more.

Prebiotic foods are especially beneficial for gut health. These foods, like onions and garlic, contain “fermented fibre.” As the bacteria in your colon break down fermented fibre, gases are produced.

These gases can cause discomfort in the lower tract of your digestive system as they inflate your colon, and lead to bloating. To get the full benefits of fibre without the discomfort, add fibre to your diet slowly, increasing the amount you consume slightly over the course of weeks or months.

2. Fibre may help you lose weight

Both insoluble and soluble fibre slow your digestion, which can signal to your body that it’s not in a huge hurry to eat again. This helps you feel fuller for longer, and therefore may reduce your caloric intake.

A 2017 study published in Food and Nutrition Research of 40 college-aged women found that inulin fibre – a naturally occurring soluble fibre found in foods like bananas, garlic, and onions – significantly reduced appetite.

During the study, participants were given either a placebo or water mixed with 16 grams of inulin fibre and told to drink it first thing in the morning. After drinking the mixture for seven days, researchers assessed participants’ appetite. The inulin fibre group reported feeling less hunger and consumed an average of 21% fewer calories at lunch than the placebo group.

3. Fibre can regulate blood sugar spikes

Many foods rich in fibre can help regulate blood sugar levels thanks to their lower glycemic index. The glycemic index ranks different foods based on their blood sugar level impact. It’s important to stabilise your blood sugar levels, as too many spikes over long periods of time can contribute to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

“Eating more fibre can help with stabilizing blood sugar, because fibre slows the absorption of sugar in your intestines,” says Favini. While adding fibre to your diet can help stabilise blood sugar levels, it’s also important to decrease sugar consumption. A high sugar diet creates an environment where harmful bacteria thrive.

Results from a 2016 study published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine with 117 study participants found that fibre effectively regulated blood sugar levels. Participants were given 0, 10, or 20 grams of supplemental soluble fibre each day for a month. After a month, fasting blood glucose and triglyceride levels significantly improved in the groups who were given fibre.

4. Fibre may reduce constipation

For some people, consuming fibre can relieve constipation. That’s because fibre adds bulk to your stool, helping it to clear out.

A 2016 medical review published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics synthesized the results of seven different randomised controlled trials. They found that 77% of adult participants successfully treated some chronic constipation symptoms by consuming more dietary fibre. However, researchers found that flatulence also increased with a higher fibre intake, which could lead to abdominal discomfort.

If you’re trying to treat constipation, both soluble and insoluble fibre will help. However, be aware fibre can sometimes make constipation worse, especially if you are dehydrated. Make sure that you are drinking plenty of water as you slowly increase your fibre intake.

Read more about the best ways to get rid of constipation.

5. Fibre improves heart health

Fibre also plays a role in cholesterol management by limiting the amount of cholesterol released into the bloodstream. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating five to 10 additional grams of soluble fibre per day can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol.

High cholesterol levels are closely linked to heart disease. This could explain why individuals who eat a high-fibre diet have a significantly lower risk of developing heart conditions such as hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.

6. Fibre may reduce your risk of some cancers

Not only does eating fibre promote overall gut health, but it may also reduce your risk of developing colon and other digestive related cancers.

A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with 33,971 participants found that people who consume high amounts of fibre from cereals and fruits were at a lower risk of developing colon cancer.

The link between fibre and other types of cancer is still unclear. However, a 2009 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with 185,000 post-menopausal women found that those who consumed more dietary fibre were at a lower risk of breast cancer.

4 easy tips to integrate more fibre into your diet

Eating more fibre is a simple way you can improve your overall health. Getting your daily recommendation can begin with making some easy swaps in your regular meals.

1. Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with their whole-grain alternatives

Because whole grains are less processed than white flour, the natural grain fibre stays intact. Favini recommends switching out processed grains for whole grains as a simple way to get more fibre.

For example, swapping brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and bran cereal in for their processed counterparts is an easy dietary change.

You can also switch out white flour for whole wheat flours in baking. Here are some more tips to make your chocolate chip cookies healthier, for example.

2. Add flax seeds or chia seeds to your meals

Flaxseed contains 2 grams of fibre per serving, making it an excellent addition to your diet. Ground flaxseed is easily added to yogurt, oatmeal, muffins, and even cookies.

Favini also advocates for adding chia seeds, which have 10 grams of fibre per serving, to meals or drinks as another easy way to boost fibre content.

3. Make fibre-rich snacks

Fibre-rich snacks are a delicious way to make your diet more fibre-friendly. Some snack options include:

Snacks rich in fibre

4. Include fibre in your breakfast

Start your day with fibre instead of sugar-laden pastries or pancakes to prevent blood sugar spikes.

A great early morning meal option includes yogurt with fruit. Or, if you’re craving carbs, choose steel cut oatmeal, 100% whole grain toast, or fibre-rich cereal.

The bottom line

Fibre is crucial for overall gut health and can improve digestion while reducing your risk of developing colon cancer.

With the average American consuming only half of their daily recommended fibre intake, it’s important for most people to up their intake. Swapping out processed foods for whole grain alternatives is a simple first step to integrate more fibre into your diet.

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