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Fibre

A heart-healthy diet includes foods that are high in fibre. Good sources of fibre can be found mainly in two food groups: grain products, including whole grains such as wild and brown rice and oatmeal, and vegetables and fruit. Meat alternatives such as beans and lentils also provide a high source of fibre.

Fibre is a vital part of a healthy diet, but most of us are getting less than half the recommended amount. A healthy adult needs 21 to 38 grams a day, but surveys show that the average daily Canadian intake is about 14 grams.

Easy ways to boost fibre intake

The good news is that you don't have to radically alter your diet in order to increase your fibre consumption. Simply switching from a refined breakfast cereal to a high-fibre one (such as a 100% bran cereal), from white bread to 100% whole-wheat bread with the germ, or from white rice to brown rice, can make a dramatic difference in your fibre intake and your overall health. Canada's Food Guide recommends making at least half of your grain product servings whole grain each day. Choose grain products that are lower in fat, sugar and salt.

Fibre is a carbohydrate found in plants. But unlike other carbohydrates, it passes through the body undigested. That means fibre adds zero calories – a bonus if you're trying to manage your weight. Studies show that women who consumed more fibre were half as likely to be obese as those who consumed less fibre. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

There are two kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fibre
Soluble fibre is a soft fibre that may help lower blood cholesterol and control blood sugar levels. The best sources are oatmeal and oat bran, legumes such as dried beans, peas and lentils, and pectin-rich foods such as apples, strawberries and citrus fruit.

Insoluble fibre
Insoluble fibre, or roughage, is bulky. It helps you feel fuller and promotes bowel regularity. It's found in wheat bran, whole-grain foods, and the skins, leaves and seeds of vegetables and fruit.

When eating high-fibre foods, make sure to have plenty of fluids such as water or soups to help your digestive system work better.

Low-fibre foods
Refined foods have had much of the fibre removed. Most products made with white flour are deemed to be refined such as doughnuts, cookies, crackers, white bread, rolls and pasta. That's why eating a slice of white bread, for example, won't satisfy your hunger nearly as much as a slice of 100% whole-wheat bread with the germ.

Shopping for high fibre
When shopping, check food product labels carefully. Look for 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat with the germ listed at the beginning of the ingredient list, and check the fibre content in the Nutrition Facts table. Products with 2 grams of fibre or more are a healthy choice. Read about the top 10 high fibre foods.

Healthy carbohydrates: whole grains, vegetables and fruit and legumes

Carbohydrates are an essential part of heart-healthy eating. Found in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes, carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for the body. They also have a wealth of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and folic acid, and they're an important source of fibre. Canada's Food Guide recommends choosing at least one dark-green (such as broccoli, chard, gai lan, romaine lettuce, spinach) and orange vegetable (such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash) each day because they are rich in folate and vitamin A.

If you are looking to try some interesting, new foods with healthy carbohydrates, check out the suggestions in this article.

There are two types of carbohydrates, complex and simple, and they act very differently in the body.

Complex carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates break down slowly, helping you sustain that full feeling. They can help prevent overeating, which increases the risk of obesity and heart disease. Complex carbs are found in vegetables, fruit, whole grains such as 100% whole grain bread and brown rice, nuts, soy products and legumes such as dried beans and peas. Studies have shown that the more legumes people eat, the lower their risk of heart disease.

Simple carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates include most commercial bakery products, sugary soft drinks, sugary cereals, white bread and white rice. They break down quickly in the body, leaving you hungry sooner. Other simple carbohydrates such as cookies, candy, chocolate bars, doughnuts and pastries also tend to contain trans fats, which are unhealthy for the heart. Try to lower or eliminate these foods from your diet.

Canada's Food Guide recommends that the number of grain servings depends on your age and gender. They are:

Recommended number of Food Guide servings per day of grains


Children

Teens

Adults


2-3

4-8

9-13

14-18 Years

19-50 Years

51+ Years


Girls and Boys

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Grain Products

3

4

6

6

7

6-7

8

6

7

One Food Guide Serving of Grain Products equals: 1 slice bread, bagel, pita; 125 mL (1/2 cup) cooked rice, bulgur or quinoa; 30 g cold cereal or 175 mL (3/4 cup) hot cereal; or 125 mL (1/2 cup) cooked pasta or couscous.

Recommended number of Food Guide Servings per day of vegetables and fruit


Children

Teens

Adults


2-3

4-8

9-13

14-18 Years

19-50 Years

51+ Years


Girls and Boys

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Vegetables
and Fruit

4

5

6

7

8

7-8

8-10

7

7

One Food Guide serving of Vegetables and Fruit equals: 125 mL (1/2 cup) fresh, frozen or canned vegetables; 250 ml (1 cup) leafy vegetables, raw: 1 fruit or 125mL (1/2 cup) fresh, frozen or canned fruits 125 mL(1/2 cup) 100% juice.

Recommended number of Food Guide Servings per day of meat and alternatives


Children

Teens

Adults


2-3

4-8

9-13

14-18 Years

19-50 Years

51+ Years


Girls and Boys

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Meat and
Alternatives

1

1

2

2

3

2

3

2

3

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that you have meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu often. One Food Guide serving of a meat alternative is: 175 mL (3/4 cup) cooked legumes; 150g or 175mL (3/4 cup) tofu; 30 mL (2 tbsp) peanut or nut butters and 60 mL (1/4 cup) shelled nuts and seeds.

Last reviewed: April 2011