What is dietary fibre, and why do we need to eat fibre?

One of our biggest welfare problems is overweight and obesity. Around the world, many people are affected, which in turn leads to other unwanted health problems. These health problems have generated a demand for different diets and new products for weight loss but have also led organizations and authorities to work for healthier food choices. 

Something that everyone agrees on is that we should eat more fibre. Dietary fibre or fibre, also called carbohydrates from the plant kingdom, are not broken down during digestion but reach the large intestine mostly unaffected. Fibre is found, for example, in vegetables, fruits, root vegetables, beans and lentils, as well as in bread, cereals, groats, pasta and rice made from whole grains. 

A food that contains a lot of fibre is knäckebröd

100 g of whole grain knäckebröd can contain from 15 g up to 24 g. An ordinary knäckebröd slice weighs about 15 g.

Why do we need fibre?

The fibre in food has effects on our health. Eat fibre, keep your weight lighter, and reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Yet it is a rarely delivered message to promote public health. The carbohydrates that pass to the large intestine are called dietary fibre. They are essential for the normal functioning of the intestines. Insoluble fibre act as clean exercise sessions for the intestines. Eating a lot of fibre and drinking enough water is essential for those with a sluggish stomach problem. The fibre swells with fluid and makes the stomach less sluggish and cumbersome – reducing the risk of bowel cancer.

Fibre-rich foods also provide a greater feeling of satiety than fibre-poor foods. Fibre increases the volume of food and offers more prolonged satiety. The greater sense of satiety can reduce snacking and make it easier to keep the weight off. Chewing fibre-rich foods often requires a little more, and saliva production increases, which is also suitable for teeth.

Fibre-rich foods help keep blood fat levels low. Foods high in fibre also cause blood sugar to rise slowly.

Different types of fibre

In the large intestine, fibre is broken down by microorganisms in the intestinal flora into short-chain fatty acids and gases. Some types of fibre are fermented and essentially broken down, which is suitable for the composition and growth of intestinal flora. Other types of fibre do not break down as much. These instead bind water and thus increase the volume of the stool. It is also suitable for the functioning of the intestines.

Dietary fibre that is water-soluble and gel-forming is called beta-glucans and has a cholesterol-lowering effect. That could be pectin found in fruits and vegetables and oat bran. This fibre is partially broken down in the small intestine. Cellulose and hemicellulose found in wheat and rye pass digestion but are partially broken down by microorganisms in the large intestine. They keep blood sugar levels down, are favourable for digestion, stimulate the gut flora and immune system, and counteract bowel cancer. Beta-glucan could be found in all cereals, but mainly in oats and barley.

So-called white fibre is produced from, for example, corn starch that changes so that it cannot be broken down in the small intestine. White fibre has the same effect on the stomach as other fibre but does not have all the health benefits of whole grains—white fibre is widely used in pasta and soft bread.

How much fibre is just right?

In general, we eat too little fibre. A moderate amount for adults is about 25-35 grams of fibre per day, which corresponds to about 3 g / MJ. MJ stands for megajoule = 1000kJ (kilojoules) and is a measure of the energy content (1 kcal = 4.18 kJ). The results from the Swedish National Food Agency's food habit survey Riksmaten adults 2010-11 show that adults, on average, ingest 20 grams or about 2.5 g /MJ. Many people thus need to eat more fibre.

For young children, you need to try out which amount is suitable for the child. School-age children should eat more fibre the older they get to reach the same amount as adults in adolescence.

Different people react differently to fibre. Too much fibre can lead to diarrhea and gases, producing tension and discomfort for some people. If you experience problems with your stomach in connection with meals, there is good information on the websites for National Health Care.

Products marked with The Keyhole are a way to help you as a consumer find foods with less sugar and salt, more whole grains and fibre and healthier fat. If you want to know how much different fibre food contains, you can find the information on the packaging, or you can search for the food in the Swedish Food Agency's database.

Source reference: Swedish Food Agency and Brödinstitutet



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