by Eden Barrett, Accredited Practising Dietitian and PhD candidate from the University of Wollongong
When we think about the benefits of fibre, we typically think about its role in digestive health and staying regular. While this is certainly one of fibre’s great benefits, there are many more you may be less familiar with. For example, did you know that a diet high in fibre has also been found to protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers (1,2,3). Additionally, fibre helps you to feel full eating fewer calories, which may explain why higher intakes of fibre are also associated with lower body weight (4).
What is particularly interesting is that these associations are often found to be strongest with high intakes of cereal fibre specifically (3,5,6,7), meaning the fibre that comes specifically from grain foods such as breads, pasta, rice and breakfast cereals.
To understand how much cereal fibre Australians are currently eating, we recently conducted some research with the University of Wollongong to develop a database of more than 1,900 foods containing cereal fibre, expanding on the current AUSNUT 2011-13 food composition database. This database allowed us to estimate how much cereal fibre Australians are getting through the foods they eat. In addition, we were also able to determine the main foods which were contributing to cereal fibre intake as well as how the amount of cereal fibre a person is eating may be related to their likelihood of meeting daily total fibre targets.
On average, Australian adults ate 6.4g of cereal fibre each day, while Australian children and adolescents ate 6.2g each day (8). This is the equivalent of about 2-3 slices of whole grain bread or 1 cup of wholemeal pasta. The main food items contributing cereal fibre within the Australian diets were:
- Breads and bread rolls (29% of adult intake and 27% of child intake)
- Ready to eat breakfast cereals and porridge (29% of adult intake and 22% of child intake)
- Cereal-based mixed dishes (e.g. spaghetti bolognaise or risotto) (13% of adult intake and 16% of child intake).
Australians who ate the most cereal fibre were not only eating more cereal foods in general but were also choosing higher-fibre varieties, such as whole grain breads and breakfast cereals, porridge, whole wheat pasta and bran-based products.
Interestingly, those who ate the most cereal fibre also ate the most total dietary fibre and were more likely to meet the recommended daily target for dietary fibre (30g/day for men and 25g/day for women):
- Men with diets highest in cereal fibre were 4.4 times more likely to meet the recommended target for total dietary fibre.
- Women with diets highest in cereal fibre were 3.1 times more likely to meet the target for total fibre.
With that in mind, how much cereal fibre should you be eating, and how can you increase your intake? Within Australia, there is no guideline on how much cereal fibre to eat. However, the Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest adults should aim for four to six serves of grain foods each day and we should aim to choose whole grain, high-fibre options at least half of the time.
While different grains differ in the amount of fibre they provide, opting for whole grain cereal foods is a good way to increase your cereal fibre intake. Importantly, whole grain foods also contain other important nutrients such as magnesium and iron, as well as many B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate).
There are many ways to add whole grains in to your diet at every meal or snack. Here are just a few simple ideas to get you started:
- Use wholemeal or whole grain bread for your sandwich at lunch
- Go for plain popcorn or whole grain crackers as a high fibre snack
- Try porridge in the colder months or muesli in Summer as an easy breakfast option
- Give wholemeal pita breads a go for healthy homemade pizzas
- Substitute regular flour for oat flour when baking muffins or making pancakes
- Try wholemeal pasta or brown rice to boost the fibre content of your favourite family dinners
And remember, even small changes can have big benefits for your health. Just starting with one of these simple swaps to a higher fibre, whole grain option will help to boost your cereal fibre intake and contribute to a healthier you!
- Yao, B. D., H. Fang, W. H. Xu, Y. J. Yan, H. L. Xu, Y. N. Liu, M. Mo, H. Zhang and Y. P. Zhao (2014). “Dietary fiber intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a dose-response analysis of prospective studies.” European Journal of Epidemiology 29(2): 79-88.
- Wu, Y. H., Y. F. Qian, Y. W. Pan, P. W. Li, J. Yang, X. H. Ye and G. Xu (2015). “Association between dietary fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease: A meta-analysis.” Clinical Nutrition 34(4): 603-611.
- Aune, D., D. S. Chan, R. Lau, R. Vieira, D. C. Greenwood, E. Kampman and T. Norat (2011). “Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.” BMJ 343: d6617.
- Du, H., H. C. van der A Dl Fau – Boshuizen, N. G. Boshuizen Hc Fau – Forouhi, N. J. Forouhi Ng Fau – Wareham, J. Wareham Nj Fau – Halkjaer, A. Halkjaer J Fau – Tjonneland, K. Tjonneland A Fau – Overvad, M. U. Overvad K Fau – Jakobsen, H. Jakobsen Mu Fau – Boeing, B. Boeing H Fau – Buijsse, G. Buijsse B Fau – Masala, D. Masala G Fau – Palli, T. I. A. Palli D Fau – Sorensen, W. H. M. Sorensen Ti Fau – Saris, E. J. M. Saris Wh Fau – Feskens and E. J. Feskens “Dietary fiber and subsequent changes in body weight and waist circumference in European men and women.” (1938-3207 (Electronic)).
- Hajishafiee, M., P. Saneei, S. Benisi-Kohansal and A. Esmaillzadeh (2016). “Cereal fibre intake and risk of mortality from all causes, CVD, cancer and inflammatory diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.” Br J Nutr 116(2): 343-352.
- Schulze, M. B., M. Schulz, C. Heidemann, A. Schienkiewitz, K. Hoffmann and H. Boeing (2007). “Fiber and magnesium intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes – A prospective study and meta-analysis.” Archives of Internal Medicine 167(9): 956-965.
- Koh-Banerjee, M. F., M. Franz, L. Sampson, S. Liu, D. R. Jacobs, Jr., D. Spiegelman, W. C. Willett and E. Rimm (2004). “Changes in whole-grain, bran, and cereal fiber consumption in relation to 8-y weight gain among men.” Am J Clin Nutr 80(5): 1237-1245.
- Barrett, E. M, Probst, Y. C & Beck, E. J (2017). “Creation of a database for the estimation of cereal fibre intake”. Submitted to Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.