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Fiber

Fiber is the part of plants that our digestive system cannot completely digest. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruit, whole-grain bread and cereals, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Once in your stomach, they swell with water, giving you a feeling of fullness.

There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is found, in particular, in foods such as wheat bran, whole grains, and vegetables. It helps move bulk through the intestinal tract and allows waste material to pass through the large intestine quicker, which can reduce the risk of colon cancer. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, is found in fruit, legumes, and oats. It has a sponge-like action for absorbing dietary cholesterol, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels.

Dietary Sources

The recommended fiber intake according to the 2002 DRIs is 38 g a day for men and 25 g a day for women. The recommendation after age 50 is 30 g a day for men and 21 g a day for women. Most people in Québec, however, don’t get enough fiber. According to the 1990 Enquête québécoise sur la nutrition, 77% of women aged 18 to 34 years and 41% of men aged 65 to 74 years consume less than 15 g of fiber a day. Many people are reluctant to increase their fiber intake out of fear that it might cause bloating or digestive discomfort.

Fiber Content of Several Common Foods
Food Serving Fiber (g)
Bread, white 1 slice 0.6
Bread, whole-wheat 1 slice 2
Corn flakes 250 mL (1 cup) 0.7
Cereal, corn-bran 250 mL (1 cup) 6.3
Cereal, wheat-bran 125 mL (1/2 cup) 11.8
Rice, white, cooked 250 mL (1 cup) 0.9
Rice, brown, cooked 250 mL (1 cup) 3.1
Spaghetti, cooked 250 mL (1 cup) 2.4
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked 250 mL (1 cup) 4.8
Broccoli, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.3
Carrots, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.2
Potato, peeled 1 medium 3.4
Potato, with peel 1 medium 4.6
Banana 1 medium 1.9
Pear 1 medium 5.1
Apple, with peel 1 medium 2.6
Dates, dried 10 7.1
Red kidney beans, cooked 250 mL (1 cup) 12.3
Lentils, cooked 250 mL (1 cup) 8.9
Almonds 60 mL (1/4 cup) 4.1

Practical Advice

Here are some tips for consuming more fiber while avoiding discomfort.

  • Gradually increase your fiber intake, for example, by adding an additional serving of a high-fiber food one week at a time.
  • Spread out your intake of high-fiber food throughout the day instead of eating them in a single meal.
  • It’s very important to drink plenty of water (6 to 8 glasses a day).
  • Choose whole-grain cereal and bread for breakfast.
  • Sprinkle wheat bran on your cereal or yogurt. Add it to your muffin and cake recipes.
  • Occasionally serve brown or wild rice instead of white rice, romaine instead of iceberg lettuce, or legumes instead of meat.
  • Sprinkle dried fruit on your yogurt. Have a baked potato or fruit dessert with graham crackers on occasion.

Brown Bread and White Bread

We sometimes think that all “brown” breads are equal and have the same health benefits, but take care! Some are not really whole grain. Take a look at the label. If you see flour white or enriched flour in the list of ingredients, the bread isn’t only whole grain: it contains a certain amount of white flour with added bran.

Look instead for an expression like whole-wheat (or oat, rye, corn) flour. The term “integral” used with bread also means whole grain. You still need to be careful, because even bread that is made with 6, 9, or 12 grains can also contain white flour. The list of ingredients on the food label is always your best bet for making informed choices.

Some breads belong to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada’s Health Check™ Ce lien s'ouvrira dans une nouvelle fenêtre. program, which selects participating products according to criteria promoting good health. Look for the Health Check™ symbol on the package. Other breads can be good sources of dietary fiber, even though they don’t display the Health Check™ logo. The labels indicate the number of grams of dietary fiber per serving. Compare and prefer products that are higher in fiber.