Healthy eating habits/Fibre for Older Adults
What is Fibre?
Dietary fibre is essential for a healthy digestive system. It is found in plant foods like wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. It is unable to be digested by the stomach and small intestine passing through to the large intestine mostly unchanged.
- Fibre is essential at every age, however, as our digestive system slows down as we get older, a high fibre diet becomes more and more important.
Are there different types of fibre?
Not all fibre is the same. There are two main types of fibre and it is important to include both of them in your diet to get all of the benefits that fibre provides.
Soluble Fibre: Soluble fibre is found in foods like oats, legumes, fruits and vegetables. It is able to absorb water and form a gel, which slows down digestion by delaying stomach emptying keeping us fuller for longer. Soluble fibre is also important in lowering our LDL (bad) cholesterol. Soluble fibre is digested by gut bacteria in our large intestine.
Insoluble Fibre: Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrains, nuts and seeds, and the skin of fruits and vegetables. It is generally quite rough and hard in texture and unlike soluble fibre; insoluble fibre does not absorb water and is unable to be digested by gut bacteria. Because it completely escapes digestion, insoluble fibre adds bulk to stools and which speeds up the rate that food moves through the gut and exits the body as waste. This helps to prevent constipation.
Benefits of fibre
→ Healthy digestive system → Keeps you fuller for longer → Promotes bowel movements → Decreases risk of constipation → Can help to reduce cholesterol levels → Can help to stabilize blood glucose levels → Can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as bowel cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Fibre and Water
Make sure you are well hydrated! Adequate fluid is essential for fibre to work properly! Fibre acts like a sponge and needs to be soaked in water to move smoothly through our bowel. A high-fibre diet without enough water can lead to abdominal discomfort. So drink plenty of water! Most people need about 8-10 cups of fluid a day. You can check to see if you’re well hydrated by the colour of your urine. It should be of a clear to light yellow colour.
How much do I need?
- Men over 70 years need 30g of fibre each day.
- Women over 70 need 25g of fibre each day.
Note: You should increase the amount of fibre in your diet slowly so your body has time to get used to the added fibre.
What does this look like in food?
High Fibre Vs. Low Fibre Foods
|High Fibre||Low Fibre|
|Food||Quantity||Fibre (g)||Fibre (g)||Quantity||Food|
|All-Bran||1/2 cup||9||0.1||1/2 cup||Rice Bubbles|
|Orange||1 medium||3||0.6||200ml||Orange Juice|
|Wholemeal Bread||1 slice||2g||1g||1 slice||White Bread|
|Mixed Nuts||Small Handful (30g)||3g||0.6g||Small Packet (20g)||Potato Chips|
|Potato (baked with skin)||1 medium (170g)||4g||2g||170g (3/4 cup)||Mashed Potato|
|Baked Beans||Small Tin (130g)||7g||1g||Small Tin (130g)||Tinned Spaghetti|
|Peas/corn||1/2 cup||3g||0.5g||1 cup||Lettuce|
|Brown Rice||1/2 cup||2g||1g||1/2 cup||White Rice|
|Vita-Weats||1 serve (4 biscuits)||3g||0.2g||1 serve||Rice Crackers|
|Dried Fruit (eg. sultanas)||Small Handful (30g)||3g||0||10 beans||Lollies (eg. jelly beans)|
Helpful tip: Although it’s useful to know how much fibre you need each day, it probably unrealistic to count every gram you are eating!! Instead just try to include a higher fibre food at each meal and when you have the choice between a high fibre and a low fibre food, go for the higher fibre option!
Tips to get more fibre into your diet
- Sprinkle dried fruit, nuts/seeds to cereals/yoghurt - Swap white bread, rice and pasta for wholemeal/wholegrain - Choose a high fibre breakfast cereal (eg. All-Bran, Muesli) - Add legumes/beans and extra veg to casseroles, soups - Swap white for wholemeal flour in baking - Leave your fruit and vegetables unpeeled. - Try to add extra vegetables to your lunch and dinner.
High-fibre snack ideas:
- Vita-weats with desired topping – ie. Cheese/tomato, vegemite and cheese - Small handful of mixed nuts - Small handful of dried fruit - Chopped up carrot/celery and dip - Fresh fruit
Need more information?
Visit the Dietitian's Association of Australia's website and have a look at their fact sheet on dietary fibre: http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/fibre/
Test your fibre knowledge and have a go at the quiz on the Better Health Channel's website: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/quiz_fibre?Open
- Dietitian's Association of Australia (DAA), Fibre, Retrieved http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/fibre/
- NHMRC (2006), Nutrient Reference Values, Dietary Fibre. Retrieved http://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/dietary-fibre
- Thomas, B., & Bishop, J. (2007). Manual of Dietetic Practice (4th ed.). Oxford (UK): Blackwell Publishing.