Canadian should be eating twice as much fibre as they usually do: the recommended daily intake of dietary fibre is between 25 and 40 grams a day for adults, and most of us don't come close to hitting that target.
The good news is that it's easy to boost your fibre intake — and improve your health and digestion as a result — by adding just a few high-fibre foods to your everyday diet.
We're falling so short on our recommended fibre intake because our regular diets are full of foods that just don't have any of that needed bulk.
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"The standard western diet is one that is high in animal products, such as meat, cheese, and milk, and refined grain products," said Selene Vakharia, a holistic nutritionist and lifestyle consultant. "These foods are not adequate sources of fibre." When we've filled ourselves up on these low-fibre foods, we haven't left ourselves much room in our stomachs — or on our plates — for high-fibre options, explained Vakharia, who owns La Belle Vie Holistic Living.
So why is it that fibre so important to include in our diets? Fibre is key to the processes we use to eliminate waste and toxins, Vakharia said. "It helps to sweep the colon, feed our healthy intestinal bacteria, and slow the digestion of food so that we stay full longer and our blood sugar remains at a healthy balance." Low-fibre diets are associated with constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, heart problems, and weight gain.
There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre slows digestion and helps you feel full for longer. It may also help to prevent or control diabetes because of its effect on blood sugar, and is related to heart health because it can help lower LDL or "lethal" cholesterol. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your waste, helping to prevent constipation and keep your bowels working well. We need both types of fibre in our diets.
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When upping your fibre intake, Vakharia advised, make sure you increase your water intake as well. This is particularly important when you're supplementing with high fibre doses or taking flax seeds or chia seeds, she said. Also, it's better to increase slowly, to give your body time to adjust and avoid stomach problems. And if you've been advised by your doctor to eat a low-fibre diet for medical reasons, speak to him or her before adding fibre-rich foods.
Here are 14 high-fibre foods you can add to your diet. Include a new one each week and you'll be hitting those intake recommendations in no time!
Apples: Add fibre to the list of ways that an apple a day could keep the doctor away — this fruit is an inexpensive and easily available source of fibre. As with other fruits and veggies with edible peels, eat your apple au naturale. The peels are an important source of fibre and nutrients like phytochemicals, Vakharia said. One medium apple (with peel!) has 4.4 grams of fibre.
Pears: There's a reason that parents give babies stewed pears when they're stopped up — one medium pear has 5.5 grams of fibre, which definitely goes a long way towards getting things moving along.
Parsnip: If you love carrots, give parsnip a try. This veggie looks like white carrots but has a distinct (and delicious!) taste. You can use it all the same ways you'd use a carrot, or even use it as a potato sub. It tastes great mashed! A nine-inch-long cooked parsnip has 5.8 grams of fibre.
Broccoli: You should have listened to your parents when they told you to eat your broccoli. A cup of chopped raw broccoli has 2.4 grams of fibre, along with a huge dose of vitamin C and vitamin K. If you're cooking it, don't overcook — steam or saute until it's bright green, and leave a bit of bite to help maintain some of the fibre and nutrients.
Brussels Sprouts: Ew, right? Chances are good that you've only tried Brussels sprouts when they've over-boiled into mush. We promise that this veggie is a whole different experience when it's been caramelized through roasting (http://vegetarian.about.com/od/sidevegetabledishes/r/balsamicbrussel.htm), or even shredded and added raw to salads. Give it another chance! Each cooked sprout has 0.5 grams of fibre, so that adds up quickly.
Carrots: Here's another childhood classic that really was good for you. Along with being a great source of betacarotene, carrots are a source of fibre—a 100-gram serving of raw baby carrots has 2.9 grams of fibre, and a half cup of cooked carrots has 2.3 grams.
Spinach: Throw a handful of sweet-tasting baby spinach in your smoothies (http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/healthy-meals/green-smoothie-recipes-00100000096170/) to get some extra fibre, along with an iron boost. A bunch of raw spinach has 7.5 grams of fibre.
Whole Grains: In order to be a good source of fibre, grains must be in their whole, unprocessed form, Vahkaria said. "The big issue with grains is in their processing," she said. "In the refining process, the bran is removed, leaving a product that doesn’t have the fibre content." For example, cooked long-grain brown rice has 1.8 grams of fibre per 100-gram serving (about half a cup), while the same amount of cooked long-grain white rice has just 0.4 grams.
Quinoa: Quinoa is technically a seed, not a grain, but it's a great source of fibre with 5.2 grams in a one-cup serving (cooked). It's also a source of protein, with 8.1 grams per cooked cup. If you haven't tried this superfood yet, now's the time!
Amaranth: Like quinoa, tiny amaranth is a seed but acts like a grain and can be used like one in cooking. It's another fibre superstar, with 5.2 grams per one-cup serving. Try adding it to soups, where it'll cook quickly, absorb the flavours, and add some protein along with its fibre content.
Legumes: Many global cuisines are rich in legumes, and for good reason: they're a great fibre source and also provide a vegetarian source of protein. For example, quick-cooking red lentils have 4 grams of fibre per half-cup serving, before cooking. Next time you get Indian food, try the dal instead of a meat dish—you'll get the same flavours but with more fibre and less fat.
Beans: Beans, beans, they're good for your heart...and your colon. These nutritional superstars are full of fibre—for example, cooked black beans have 15 grams per one-cup serving, and white beans have a whopping 18.6 grams in the same amount. Up your bean intake slowly if you're not used to eating them, to give your digestive system time to adjust.
Flax Seeds: Flax seeds are great because they contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, and our body needs both kinds for different reasons. One tablespoon serving of ground flax seeds (http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3163/2) has 1.9 grams of fibre. Vakharia suggests adding a teaspoon of ground flax to your oatmeal or cereal in the mornings. If you pre-grind your flax, or buy it ground, keep it in the fridge. Grinding releases oils in the seed that can oxidize at room temperature.
Chia Seeds: These tiny seeds (http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3061/2) have 10.6 grams of fibre per ounce, and the gel coating that forms around them when they come in contact with liquids helps waste move through your digestive tract. Try adding chia seeds to your yogurt, Vakharia said, and leave them for ten minutes to gel before you eat it. You could also drink chia fresca (http://ohsheglows.com/2013/03/01/chia-fresca-a-natural-energy-drink/), which is both refreshing and fibre-rich.