Fibre plays an important role in helping our bodies to make (and pass) a poo! But the world of fibre is a tricky one to navigate so we hope to make it a little clearer here today.
So what is fibre?
Fibre is the part of food that can’t be broken down or absorbed by the body, it passes right through us. Dietary fibre can be found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and beans. Dietary fibre plays an important role in keeping our bowels regular. Adequate fibre intake is important for both children and adults. A low fibre diet can lead to constipation. Fibre also plays an important role in regulating the body’s use of sugars keeping blood sugar and hunger in check.
The different types of fibre:
There are a wide variety of naturally occurring types of fibre that can be categorised according to their solubility, viscosity and/or fermentability. However, the most popular categorisation is soluble vs insoluble fibre so we’ll talk a little more about this important distinction.
Soluble fibre forms a soft gel in the bowel which helps to increase the mass of stool and allow for easy passage. This type of fibre dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. Soluble fibre is found in oats, lentils, peas, beans, apples, blueberries and psyllium among many other foods.
Insoluble fibre absorbs water, therefore providing bulk. It helps with producing soft motions which are easy to pass. 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, brown rice, legumes, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are all good sources of insoluble fibre.
The amount of soluble and insoluble fibre varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, it’s important to eat a wide variety of high-fibre foods.
A little note on fermentable fibre:
Fermentable fibre plays an important role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Fermentable fibres include beans and legumes. One of the by-products of the fermentation process is gas – which is why beans are known for making you toot!
How much fibre do children need?
An easy way to work out how much fibre kids need is to add 5-10grams to their age. Eg a 5 year old child would need 10-15grams of fibre. For more specific guidelines, The Australian Guidelines recommend the below intake based on a child’s age.
How to be fibre-wise?
- Read nutrition labels
- Increase fibre rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds
- Choose whole fruit instead of juice
- Choose whole grain pasta and bread
- Add a can of beans or lentils to dishes like spaghetti or cottage pie
- Try to avoid processed foods such as biscuits, crackers, pastries and fast food that are low in dietary fibre
- Leave skins on fruits and vegetables where possible
- Avoid supplementing fibre for children as supplements are often a bit harsh for young bodies, instead, go for natural sources where possible
The role of water
Increasing fibre intake without increasing water can make constipation worse. Water is essential for soft bowel motions. How much water does your child require? Have a look below.
- 5 to 8 yrs: 5 glasses (1 litre)
- 9 to 12 yrs: 7 glasses (1.5 litres)
- 13 and over: 8 to 10 glasses (2 litres)
Caity Smits (Occupational Therapist).
References & where to get more information