Dietary fibre is often hailed a digestive health star, yet most people don’t know that dietary ﬁbre also takes centre stage for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and weight gain.
What is dietary ﬁbre?
Found only in plant foods (e.g. grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds), dietary ﬁbre escapes digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Dietary ﬁbre then makes its way into the large intestine (colon), where it is partially or completely broken down by an army of good bacteria which help to promote health and wellbeing.
Grains, especially whole grains, contain a range of dietary fibres important for health and prevention of disease. These include:
- Soluble fibres such as beta-glucan (found in oats and barley), pentoses (found in rye) and arabinoxylans (found in barley, wheat and rye)
- Insoluble fibres such as lignins, cellulose and hemi-celuloses (found in most cereals, especially wheat bran, rice and maize);
- Resistant starch (found in some cereals like corn, cooled cooked rice and maize, high amylose starch varieties of maize and high amylase rice);
- Smaller oligosaccharides such as fructooligosaccharides and inulin (found in wheat, rye, oats and barley, with very young barley having high amounts).
While whole grains and bran products are higher in fibre, refined grain foods like white bread and pasta do still contain fibre. On average, refined grain foods on shelf in Australia contain one third of the fibre of whole grain foods.
Cereal fibre has a range of health benefits:
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Manage and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
- Protect against colorectal cancer
- Reduced risk of early death
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved weight control
- Improved digestive health
- lower risk of digestive disorders
- Enhanced immune function
There are several types of dietary fibre which act in different ways to improve digestive health and protect against disease. These include:
How much fibre do you need?
The total amount of dietary ﬁbre we need to eat each day varies according to age, gender, life stage and disease risk. The table below provides a summary of the minimum levels required by adults for digestive health as well as the target to reduce risk of disease.
|Adults||Fibre per day (g)|
|Minimum requirement for digestive healthMenWomen||25g30g|
|For disease preventionMalesFemales||38g28g|
Putting it all together into a balanced high fibre diet
Maximise the health benefits of ﬁbre by enjoying grain foods 3-4 times each day, choosing at least half as whole grains and high fibre grain foods. Also aim to eat legumes 2-3 times each week.
Drinking plenty of fluids, preferably water and being physically active are also very important when following a high fibre diet to help keep you feeling your best.
To download a copy of our consumer factsheet on dietary fibre, click here.