How much fibre do you need?
That depends …
Paleo-biologists estimate that in some parts of the world, paleo man consumed about 100 grams of fibre (combined soluble + insoluble) per day. Today’s average Australian and American consumes less than 20 grams per day. The answer lies somewhere in-between these two extremes. We have individual differences in the amount of fibre we need and our needs change as we age or develop certain illnesses. A rough (pun intended) guide is as follows.
These numbers represent the combined total of soluble + insoluble fibre because most fibre-rich foods contain a mixture of both.
HOW DO YOU GET OPTIMAL AMOUNTS OF BOTH TYPES OF FIBRE?
Eat a variety of high fibre foods (click here for the list) to receive the greatest health benefits. The best option by far is to eat whole foods rather than fibre-fortified processed foods or fibre supplements.
One of the many problems with processed foods is that fibre is removed in order to prolong shelf life. Removing fibre means removing all the benefits described in the previous HEB. Even though some processed foods such as breakfast cereals have fibre added back, it is usually only of the soluble type and doesn’t confer the other nutritional benefits of eating whole foods. The same goes for fibre supplements in bottles.
HOW TO EAT FIBRE SO THAT YOUR GUT DOESN’T REBEL
Fibre is not a quick fix!
Bacteria ferment fibre to produce short chain fatty acids (eg butyric acid) which stimulate muscle activity in the wall of your colon. This activity, along with gaseous byproducts of fermentation, can produce cramping, bloating and abdominal discomfort if you suddenly increase your fibre intake.
The message is to increase fibre by small increments (a few grams per week) over the course of several months. You will know if you have had too much too soon.
Whenever you increase your fibre intake you also need to increase your water intake because both types of fibre require water to function effectively. Soluble fibre absorbs water in the stomach, while insoluble fibre pulls and retains water from your colon to add bulk and moisture to stools. The amount by which you need to increase water depends on how much you are already drinking. Drink water regularly throughout the day (aiming for at least 8 cups). Gulping down copious amounts of water with your meal is not the answer because it can take over 24 hours for fibre to complete the journey through your gut. Water is required at several stages throughout this odyssey. Be especially conscientious about drinking water if you take fibre supplements (which I don’t recommend unless you have a specific need for them).
If you have diabetes or any type of gut disorder, please make sure you read the warning in my next HEB.