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FIBRE AND HUMAN HEALTH


Types of fibre and health benefits

Introduction

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Here is what you will learn in this unit:


Whats fibre?
Fibre, the zero-calorie carbohydrate
Soluble and insoluble fibre
How much fibre do we need?
Beyond bread and whole grains
Risks of low fibre intake
Low fibre intake and cholesterol
Low fibre intake and cancer
Fibre and weight control
Juice or smoothie?
Fibre, the polyphenol trafficker

Whats fibre?
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Dietary fibre used to be known as roughage, and refers


to a group of substances in plant foods which cannot be
completely broken down by human digestive enzymes.

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In other words, fibre is the


indigestible cell wall
component of plant material.
This includes waxes, lignin
and polysaccharides such as
cellulose and pectin.

Did you know?

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Pectin, a type of
fibre abundant in
apples, is a
powerful
detoxifier. It binds
with toxins and
escorts them out
of the body.

Fibre, the zero-calorie carb


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Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that the body cant


digest.
Unlike starches and sugars, which are the other types of
carbohydrates, fibre contributes no calories and no food
energy.
In other words, when we consume fibre, we add bulk to
foods but get zero calories from it.
Fibre comes mainly from plant foods: fruits, vegetables,
grains, nuts, and legumes.
Instead of being broken down and absorbed into the
bloodstream, fibre simply passes through the entire
digestive tract.

Soluble and insoluble fibre


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Fibre is commonly classified as soluble (it dissolves in


water) or insoluble (it doesn't dissolve):
Soluble fibre. This type of fibre dissolves in water to form
a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol
and glucose levels. Soluble fibre is found in oats, peas,
beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium.
Insoluble fibre. This type of fibre promotes the movement
of material through your digestive system and increases
stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle
with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour,
wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as
cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources.

Fibre sources
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Fibre is present in all plant foods in varying amounts.


As you know by now, most fibre is classified as soluble
(meaning that it partially dissolves in water) or insoluble
(meaning that it resists digestion and does not dissolve in
water).
Fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans, lentils) are the
ideal sources of both soluble and insoluble fibre since they
contain a very high antioxidant value.
Either soluble or insoluble fibre is predominant in the
foods listed on the next page.

Soluble and insoluble fibre sources

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Soluble fibre

Insoluble fibre

Oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils,


apples, oranges, pears,
oat bran, strawberries,
nuts, flaxseeds, beans,
dried peas, blueberries,
psyllium, celery,
and carrots.

Whole wheat, whole grains,


wheat bran, corn bran, seeds,
nuts, barley, couscous, brown
rice, bulgur, zucchini, celery,
broccoli, cabbage, onions,
tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers,
green beans, dark leafy
vegetables, raisins, grapes,
fruit, root vegetable skins.

How much fibre do we need?


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The UK governments official recommendation for fibre is


18 grams a day.
Having said that, we base our recommendations on the
Institute of Medicine guidelines (which provides sciencebased advice on matters of health), as follows:
Age 50 or younger

Age 51 or older

Men

38 grams daily

30 grams daily

Women

25 grams daily

21 grams daily

Fibre tool

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In Module 15 (Health Benefits of 160


Superfoods), well be detailing the amount of
fibre in 160 food items, which you can use to
calculate your daily fibre intake!

Beyond bread and whole-grains


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There is no guideline for how much of that should be


soluble or insoluble.
In the average diet, about three-quarters of the fibre is
insoluble and one quarter is soluble. This reflects the fact
that we tend to eat a lot of bread and grain-based foods
but not enough fruits and vegetables!
Also, theres no amount at which fibre is considered toxic.
That doesnt mean that an excess of fibre couldnt make
you uncomfortable.
People who quickly and drastically increase their fibre
intake sometimes experience cramping and bloating. So,
a gradual increase is always best!

Risks of low-fibre intake


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According to the British Nutrition Foundation, in the UK,


most people do not eat enough fibre: the average intake
is 12.8g a day for women and 14.8g a day for men.
A deficiency of fibre in your diet can cause irregular
digestion, elevated cholesterol levels, and increased body
weight.
A lack of fibre can also cause constipation. Fibre absorbs
water and swells, providing bulk inside your digestive
tract. This helps to keep everything soft and moving easily
through your body.
Be sure to drink plenty of fluids when increasing your
fibre intake; otherwise, constipation may become worse!

Low-fibre intake and cholesterol


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If you don't eat enough fibre, you may also develop an


elevated cholesterol level.
During digestion, your body releases bile acids, which
contain cholesterol from your body.
Normally, a portion of this cholesterol gets re-absorbed
into your body along with nutrients from food.
However, when fibre is present in your intestines, it binds
to bile acids and eliminates them from your body as
waste together with the cholesterol they contain.
Increasing your fibre intake and lowering your saturated
fat and cholesterol intake can help to lower high
cholesterol.

Low-fibre intake and cancer risk


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Harvard School of Public Health notes that a diet rich in


fruits and vegetables, which are high-fibre foods, is linked
to lower cancer rates.
High-fibre foods also supply you with vitamins and
minerals needed to keep your immune system at its best.
Many fibre-rich foods provide a good source of
antioxidants, which protect your body from damage by
harmful free radicals. Fibre also binds with harmful toxins
and escorts them out of your body as waste.
According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, eating a
diet high in fibre may play a role in preventing colon
cancer specifically.

Fibre and weight control

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15

Fibre can help to manage your weight in a few ways:


Fibre has no calories, adds bulk to food, and binds with
water in your gastrointestinal system helping you to
reduce hunger, promoting a sense of fullness.
Fibre, particularly soluble fibre, can slow the absorption
of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A fibre-rich
diet also reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
High-fibre foods slow down gastric emptying and linger
longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time.
High-fibre meals are less energy dense, which means
they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.

Did you know?


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Serving large portions of chunky


vegetable soup at the start of a
meal has been shown to increase
satiety and reduce the total
amount of calories you eat in your
main meal by about 20%.
Having salads or whole fruits (in particular, apples and
pears) before a meal reduces the number of calories you
eat in your main meal by around 15%.
The researchers have shown that these high-fibre, highwater foods reduce your appetite and cause you to eat
smaller amounts of the higher calorie foods.

Juice or smoothie?
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Juicing, as opposed to blending, removes the fibre.


Fibre protects antioxidants (particularly polyphenols)
during their transit in the digestive system by encapsulation,
allowing them to safely arrive to the absorption sites.
Researcher Dr Padayachee says: In juicing, the fibrous
pulp is usually discarded, which means you miss out on the
health benefits of these antioxidants (polyphenols) as well
as the fibre.
In juicing, the polyphenols that were bound to fibre within
the plant cell may not make it to the colon. Therefore, these
beneficial antioxidants may be more bio-available via
blending (or eaten whole) than juicing.

Fibre, the polyphenol trafficker


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Research shows that fibre protects certain antioxidants in


fruits and vegetables from early digestion in the stomach
and small intestine, escorting them to the large intestine.
For example, in 2012, researchers at The University of
Queensland in Australia discovered that fibre binds up to
80% of cancer-inhibiting antioxidant polyphenols in fruit
and vegetables, safely escorting them to the colon where
they can provide protection against cancers, either:
through absorption into the circulatory system, or
through exerting antioxidant activity in the intestine
environment, scavenging free radicals and
counteracting the effects of dietary pro-oxidants.

Additional Resources
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Fibre: start roughing it! Harvard School of Public Health


WebMD: Fibre Calculator Fiber-o-Meter.
MedlinePlus: Additional online links for dietary fibre.
Health effects of dietary fibre. Technol Aliment. 2014.
The Role of Dietary Fiber in the Bioaccessibility and
Bioavailability of Fruit and Vegetable Antioxidants.
Journal of Food Science.
Fibre caught trafficking antioxidants in the colon. The
University Of Queensland, Australia.
Food microstructure affects the bioavailability of several
nutrients. Journal of Food Science.
Polyphenols and health: what compounds are involved?

Test your knowledge!


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Whats fibre?

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Is fibre a type of carbohydrate, protein, or fat?

How many calories does it have?

Test your knowledge!


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Whats soluble fibre?

And insoluble fibre?

Test your knowledge!


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Provide examples of food sources and health benefits for


both soluble and insoluble fibre:

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Soluble fibre

Insoluble fibre

Test your knowledge!


23

Whats the UK recommended guideline for fibre?

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But how much fibre do we need according to the Institute of


Medicine? Answer by completing the table:
Age 50 or younger
Men
Women

Age 51 or older

Test your knowledge!


24

Whats the guideline for soluble and insoluble fibre?

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Which type of fibre do we tend to eat more of?

Whats the amount at which fibre is considered toxic?

Test your knowledge!


25

What are the health risks of low-fibre intake?

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Whats the average fibre intake in the UK?

Test your knowledge!


26

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If you don't eat enough fibre, you may also develop an


elevated cholesterol level because

Why are high-fibre foods linked to lower cancer rates?

Test your knowledge!


27

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In which ways can fibre contribute to weight control?

What are the benefits of blending fruits and vegetables (as


opposed to juicing)?

Test your knowledge!


28

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Its said that fibre is the polyphenol trafficker because

How are fibre and polyphenols connected in cancer


prevention?

Your key takeaways


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What are your key learnings, takeaways, or discoveries


from this unit? List a minimum of 3:

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1.

2.

3.

Idea Bank
30

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This is your place to take notes, make observations, sketch, plan, and think about ways to
apply your new insights to your health and the health of those you help. Start writing away!

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