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Whole-body health benefits of eating fibre: Are you getting enough?


WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Fibre in our diet is important for digestive health, including keeping us 'regular'.

However, most of us only manage 14g of fibre a day when the recommended intake is at least 18g of fibre a day.

So why is fibre so good for us?

Healthy bowel movements

Fibre is important for normal bowel movements by increasing the weight and size of your poo and softening it. This helps to reduce the risk of constipation.

Weight loss

Fibre makes you feel more full, so can help with weight loss.

Fibre can also be less energy dense, so there are fewer calories in the same measure of food.

One study found that women who ate more whole grains and total fibre consistently gained less weight over 12 years than those who ate less fibre and whole grains. Another study found that women with low-fibre, high-fat diets were more likely to be overweight than those following high-fibre, low-fat diets.

When you increase dietary fibre, do it gradually to avoid gastric distress, and drink plenty of fluids to avoid constipation.

Heart health

Soluble fibre may help lower total blood cholesterol levels. It may also have a role in reducing blood pressure and inflammation.

Higher intakes of fibre (from cereal and whole grain products) were linked with a slower build up of cholesterol-filled plaque of the arteries in postmenopausal women with coronary artery disease. In another study, in men and women between 40 and 60 years old and free of heart disease, viscous fibre (especially pectin, the type of soluble fibre found in apples) appeared to protect against the progression of atherosclerosis in neck arteries.

High intakes of oat fibre appeared to have a protective effect on the heart, by lowering LDL "bad" cholesterol without decreasing HDL "good" cholesterol.

Bowel cancer

A high-fibre diet may reduce your risk of bowel cancer. If populations with a low average fibre intake suddenly doubled their fibre by making wiser food choices, they could lower their risk of colon cancer by 40%, according to a study involving data collected from 10 European countries. A US National Cancer Institute study also linked high fibre intakes to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. This was especially true for fibre from grains, cereals and fruit.

Diabetes

Fibre helps control blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, soluble fibre can help slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels.

There's some evidence fibre in the diet can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Haemorrhoids

Reducing the risk of constipation and straining when going to the toilet by eating enough fibre can reduce the risk of developing piles or haemorrhoids. Fibre can also help reduce the risk of the common bowel condition diverticulosis.

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Reviewed on August 15, 2013

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