Dietary fibre intake? Chances are yours is too low

When it comes to dietary fibre, society’s understanding of it has come a long way over the past four decades. To emphasise this, one need only look at this 1986 Australian ad for a product called Fibre Trim.

Many of you will remember that ad. Perhaps some of you even took Fibre Trim. What’s interesting about the ad, looking at it through a 2023 lens, is how it promoted the product.

Fibre Trim was dietary fibre in tablet form. But the reason you should’ve been buying it in 1986, according to the ad, was not to improve your gut health but as a supplement to help you lose weight.

This weight loss could be attained with Fibre Trim’s help “when taken with a calorie-controlled diet and exercise”. Of course!

You might not be surprised to learn that Fibre Trim disappeared from supermarket and pharmacy shelves long ago. Dietary fibre supplements remain, however. You probably won’t find them marketed as weight loss aids, though.

The importance of dietary fibre

Those supplements still exist because dietary fibre is important. Not as a weight-loss product, but rather as key part of maintaining a healthy gut. Back in 1986, few Australians would have heard the term ‘gut health’. In 2023, we know it, and are well aware of its importance.

Despite that widespread knowledge, sadly, the vast majority of Australians don’t get enough. In fact, across all adult age groups, less than 20 per cent of Australians reach their suggested dietary target of fibre. (For women that target is 28g daily for women and for men 38g.)

If there is any good news from such disappointing findings, it’s that a higher proportion Aussies over 50 have an adequate fibre intake (25g for women, 30g for men). But even those numbers are low, with 31 per cent of adults aged 51–70 getting adequate intake. In the over 70 age group, the figure is around 29 per cent.

And yet most of us are well aware of the potential poor health consequences of a low dietary fibre intake. These include, constipation, haemorrhoids, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) at the lower end of the scale. More seriously, heart disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and breast cancer are all linked to a low intake.

Solutions – good and better

Now that you’ve been reminded of what you probably already knew, what should you do about it? Are dietary fibre supplements a good way to reach your suggested dietary target?

Such supplements can be useful. But as with most supplements, they will almost certainly not provide as many health benefits as natural fibre. And, surprising as it may sound, it is possible to have too much fibre. Best to see your GP before going down the dietary fibre supplement path.

Natural sources of fibre are the best solution. And there’s no shortage of natural sources. Most of them you will already know. Fruit and vegetables, nuts, wholegrain cereals, brown rice – the list goes on.

If you’re planning on doing something about your dietary fibre levels, that’s great. One warning, though – increase slowly. If you jump from low levels to high too fast, you’ll risk bloating, abdominal pain and flatulence. Take it slowly and you’ll soon be on your way to a healthier gut and probably a longer life.

Do you know if you have enough dietary fibre in your diet? What are your go-to high fibre foods? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Could this diet cut bowel cancer risk?

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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