Just like vitamins and minerals, fibre is an essential nutrient that is vital for good health, however its importance is commonly overlooked. Just like any other essential nutrient, it is important that it is included in a healthy, balanced diet. Proper gut function depends on adequate dietary fibre intake. A diet low in dietary fibre can result in unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, digestive discomfort, stomach aches and reduced bowel movements (1,2).
Dietary fibre helps to maintain bowel regularity by increasing stool bulk, making it easier to pass. There are two types of dietary fibre – soluble and insoluble fibre.
Soluble fibre is soluble in water, as the name suggests, and helps to make a gel-like or thickened stool. In this way, soluble fibre can help with constipation, by softening the stool, as well as slowing and thickening loose stools (3). Soluble fibre can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, oats, barley, and legumes.
Insoluble fibre is not soluble in water. It helps to move food through the digestive tract and adds to stool bulk (3). Insoluble fibre is found in foods such as wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds, and wheat bran.
It is estimated that more than 57% of Australian children aged 2 to 18 don’t meet their daily dietary fibre needs (4).
A child’s recommended fibre intake is determined by their age. Each day, the recommended amount of dietary fibre deemed adequate for children is (1):
To receive the full benefit of fibre consumption, children should also consume plenty of water, at least 4 to 6 cups, or 1 to 1.5L, of fluid per day.
We know that fibre plays an important role in healthy digestion, but another crucial factor for a child’s digestive health is their gut microbiome. The human body is home to trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms, all of which make up our individual microbiome (5).
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria within the microbiome. They are naturally found in the digestive system and can assist in supporting healthy digestive system function, maintaining the balance between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ bacteria, and a healthy microbiome can also aid nutrient absorption from food (6).
Certain types of fibre can also be classified as prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates which promote the growth of beneficial bacteria within the gut. Put simply, prebiotics provide food and fuel for probiotics to flourish (7).
An example of an excellent source of dietary fibre which also doubles as a prebiotic is acacia. Acacia fibre is sourced from the gum of selected acacia trees and is 100% plant based. It is rich in soluble fibre, and is well tolerated by the body (8). As a rich source of dietary fibre, acacia aids the digestive process and works to maintain bowel regularity by increasing stool bulk.
Acacia fibre is also an excellent prebiotic. It promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria within the gut and specifically, it has been shown to increase levels of probiotic bacteria including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (8).