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Fibre – The Hallmark of a Healthy Diet

The most recent National Nutrition Survey showed that grain foods are the leading source of fibre in the diets of young Australian women delivering a whopping 42.4% (1). However, despite this important link between grain foods and fibre, many young women fall short of their core grain intake recommendation(2). But why is this? Despite being the hallmark of healthy eating, dietary fibre rarely captivates the attention of young women, however the results of a new study(3) have bolstered the case for fibre to be recognised as a, if not the, leading health promoting component of food. This has raised concern that young women may be missing the benefits of a high fibre diet, of which high fibre grain and whole grain foods play an important role. Here we have summarised the results of this recent study in light of the dietary fibre and core grain intakes of young Australian women.

PhD candidate, young woman and lead author of the new review on dietary fibre(3) Stacey Fuller said, “The evidence has shown time and time again that people who eat higher fibre diets experience greater digestive wellbeing and reduced risk of specific cancers, heart disease, diabetes and obesity – some of the biggest causes of death and disability in Australia. Despite the overwhelming body of evidence emphasising the importance of a high fibre diet for wellbeing, Australians are falling short of fibre recommendations, particularly young women aged 19-30 years, who on average consume around 20g of dietary fibre per day (25g recommendation)(1).

Co-author, Associate Professor Eleanor Beck of the University of Wollongong stated, “While people generally understand that fibre is important for digestive health, there is a lack of understanding of the additional and wide ranging benefits of fibres for disease risk reduction and as a result, there is a lack of appreciation of the importance of eating a variety of high fibre foods as part of a balanced diet.”

What many people don’t realise is that fibre is not a single nutrient but rather a range of complex components found in a variety of foods including grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Pectin, which is found in a range of plant-based foods, including legumes, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, has been shown to reduce cholesterol reabsorption and improve bowel health. Other types of fibre such as β-Glucan, a type of cereal fibre, is found more exclusively in grain foods such as barley and oats. Cereal fibre has been shown to offer the greatest protection against risk of early death, compared with other types of fibre(5). Just 10g of cereal fibre per day can reduce future risk of heart disease by 10%(4) and type 2 diabetes by 35%(6).

Whilst core grain foods are the major source of fibre in all Australian’s diets, the 2014 GLNC Consumption and Attitudinal Survey showed that people are much less likely to identify grains (and legumes) as sources of dietary fibre compared to fruit and vegetables(2). On top of this, many young women believe that grain foods, including those that are high in fibre (e.g. wholemeal pasta, whole grain bread), are not an important part of a healthy diet(2). What they don’t understand is that by limiting their intake of core grains, they not only compromising their fibre intake but also their consumption of a wide range of other essential nutrients and protective components found in fibre rich grain foods.

This recent review highlights the need for a greater understanding that when it comes to fibre, variety is essential, and all Australians should be encouraged to eat a variety of fibre-rich plant foods including grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds as part of a balanced diet. To help meet dietary fibre recommendations and achieve fibre intakes associated with wellbeing in the short term and reduced risk of chronic disease in the long term, young women should aim to enjoy core grains foods three to four times each day, choosing at least half as whole grain and/or high fibre grain foods, within a balanced diet rich in other source of dietary fibre. This could be as easy as having a bowl of porridge with fruit for breakfast, a whole grain salad sandwich for lunch and a vegetable stir-fry with brown rice or barley for dinner.

For a range of fibre rich recipes, cooking tips and snack ideas with grains and legumes visit the GLNC website.

References

  1. ABS. National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014-15.
  2. GLNC. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.
  3. Fuller S, Beck E, Salman H, Tapsell L. New Horizons for the Study of Dietary Fiber and Health: A Review. Plant foods for human nutrition. 2016.
  4. Pereira MA, O’Reilly E, Augustsson K, Fraser GE, Goldbourt U, Heitmann BL, et al. Dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2004;164(4):370-6.
  5. Kim Y, Je Y. Dietary Fiber Intake and Total Mortality: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. American journal of epidemiology. 2014;180(6):565-73.
  6. Yao B, Fang H, Xu W, Yan Y, Xu H, Liu Y, et al. Dietary fiber intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a dose-response analysis of prospective studies. European journal of epidemiology. 2014;29(2):79-88.

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