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Quick, think of one type of nutrient that has weight loss properties, helps to prevent cancer and diabetes, regulates digestive health, and improves cardiovascular health. If this list impresses you, you might be surprised to know that these are all qualities that fibre is said to have. In this article we’ll have a look at what fibre is, all the above mentioned properties, how to get it, and its applications to weight loss.

What is Fibre?

If I was to do some word association, the first word that comes to your mind when I say “fibre” is probably “muscle”. But hopefully after you read this article you will have a greater appreciation for dietary fibre and how it helps you live a better life. Dietary fibre (or fiber for our American audience) are components of edible plants that are indigestible by people. Chemically speaking, fibre a very complex carbohydrate. However, unlike the good old carb that we’re used to, it has very different biological properties. Fibre can be separated into two major categories.

Soluble Fibre

Soluble fibre is found within plant cells, and includes compounds such as pectins, gums, and mucilage. Even though people lack the specific mechanisms to digest fibre, we do house millions of friendly bacteria in our colon that are capable of fermenting soluble fibre into very useful products. These products are responsible for a lot of the wonderful things that have previously been mentioned. Some good sources of soluble fibre include fruits, vegetables, beans, oats, and psyllium.

Insoluble Fibre

Insoluble fibre is found in plant cell walls, and includes compounds such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. These largely pass undigested through the gut, but play an important role in adding bulk to faeces, and hence preventing constipation. Insoluble fibre is generally found in the bran and skin of grains, fruits, seed, vegetable, etc.

Fibre & Weight Loss

Fibre has been found to be effective in aiding weight loss and management (Lindstrom et al, 2005) in a variety of ways. First of all, fibre is very low calorie. When consumed, despite being substantial in volume, does not provide a lot of energy. This can help you to feel full, while not providing much energy and contributing to a calorie deficit. There have also been other theories regarding the effect of fibre on weight loss, such as reducing the ability of the small intestine to absorb calories (Slavin, 2005).

Fibre & Digestive Health

Both soluble and insoluble fibres are able to modify stool quality, resulting in larger and softer faeces, which moves through your gut quickly, and increases the ease of defecation. This prevents and alleviates constipation, as well as haemorrhoids.  Soluble fibre is a prebiotic, that is, it provides nutrients to the good bacteria in your gut. By promoting the bacterial colony, it builds resistance to the invasion of bad bacteria.

Fibre & Preventing Cancer

Research has shown that in some cases, high fibre intake can reduce the occurrence of colorectal cancer (cancer of the large intestines and rectum) by up to 40% (Bingham et al, 2003). One of the theories for this is that because high fibre intake speeds transit time of food in the gut, carcinogens (cancer causing agents) pass through quicker. This quick passage reduces the likelihood of causing damage.

Fibre & Preventing Diabetes

Type II diabetes is characterised by an insensitivity to the effects of insulin and is a major health issue for the obese. It has been found that fibre consumption increases insulin sensitivity, which may play a role in preventing the occurrence of diabetes (Weickert et al, 2006). Fibre slows the absorption of glucose which prevents an insulin spike. This is helpful for diabetics and those wishing to lose weight, as it provides a more sustained energy release.

Fibre & Cardiovascular Health

Soluble fibre is known for its ability to bind with bile acids (made from cholesterol) to reduce bad LDL, and total cholesterol in the blood (Brown et al, 1999). LDL cholesterol is a significant risk factor in the development of heart disease. A healthy cardiovascular system is often overlooked by younger people. However, getting into good habits at a younger age can have a huge impact later on.

Recommended Fibre Intake

Now that you know the benefits of fibre intake, you may be curious to know what the recommended daily fibre intake is. Unfortunately, the average Australian consumes only 18 to 25 g fibre per day. This a fair bit lower than the recommended intake of approximately 30 g per day. The figures are quite startling when we consider the fibre intake of people on certain diets. Ketogenic diets such as the Atkins diet has its uses in bodybuilding and weight loss in general. However, it has been found that practitioners of the Atkins diet get only between 1.6 to 9 g fibre/day, depending on which phase of the diet they are in (Slavin, 2005).

Sources of Fibre


Total dietary fibre (g/100 g)

Total dietary fibre (g/serve)



1.23 (1 cup)

Green beans


3.41 (1 cup)



4.9 (1 large apple)



3.3 (1 large banana)



2.6 (1/3 cup)

Wheat bran cereal


13.5 (1 cup)

Commercial weight loss bar


6.4 (1 bar)

Commercial meal replacement drink


5 (50 g serve)

*Source: FSANZ (2010)

The above table shows foods well known to be high in fibre. Eating a few serves of these foods will ensure that you meet the daily requirement of fibre. Although food can be a good source of fibre, it is important to note the relatively high fibre content of certain commercial supplements. These can provide a valuable source of additional fibre.

High Fibre Weight Loss Supplements

Many companies have caught on to the benefits of fibre for weight loss. Consequently, meal replacement drinks are often high in fibre, high in protein, low in fat, and low in carbs. The protein and fibre work together to give a feeling of satiety (fullness), while the high fibre content also keeps calories down. When taken in place of a meal, these supplements have been found to be effective in aiding in sustainable weight loss (Heymsfield, 2003). Thanks to the high fibre content of some weight loss and protein bars, they may also be effective in satisfying food cravings, with very low fat and carb levels to help you lose weight.

Quite often weight loss products are marketed to women, but men should have no reservations in using such products. The principles mentioned above are not sex discriminatory. These types of products may also helpful for bodybuilders and athletes competing in weight classes (eg MMA fighters, power lifters, etc) that wish to lose weight or fat. Being high in protein helps to meet the high protein demand of these athletes, while also aiding in the maintenance of lean mass during weight shedding. Additionally, these supplements can be ketogenic diet friendly, some providing 2 to 3 g of carbs. So there’s no excuse not to increase your fibre intake.

Warning About Fibre

If you're intending on increasing your fibre intake, be sure to do it gradually. Not all people tolerate drastic increases in fibre well. Some people may experience diarrhea, flatulence, or constipation (ironically). So be sure to increase fibre slowly. Also keep in mind that soluble fibre does a good job of absorbing water. So be sure to increase your water intake too. It is far too easy to forget about fibre when we’re counting protein and calories. However, given all the benefits of a fibre rich diet, most people should also be taking fibre into consideration when they plan their meals. Whether you’re a bit on the chubby side, an experienced bodybuilder, or the average Joe, you can always benefit from the goodness of fibre.

Bingham et al (2003), Dietary fibre in food and protection against colorectal cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into cancer and Nutrition (EPIC): an observational study. The Lancet, 361: 1496-1501.
Brown et al (1999), Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69: 30-42.
FSANZ (2010), NUTTAB 2010 Online Searchable Database.
Heynmsfield et al (2003), Weight management using a meal replcement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. International Journal of Obesity. 27: 537-549
Lindstrom et al (2005), High-fibre, low-fat diet predicts long-term weight loss and decreased type 2 diabetes risk: the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study. Diabetologia, 49: 912-920
Slavin (2005), Dietary fibre and body weight. Nutrition, 21: 411-418
Weickert et al (2006), Cereal fiber improves whole-body insulin sensitivity in overweight and obese women. Diabetes Care, 29: 775-780

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