Fibre has long been associated with health and continues to be a trendy topic among researchers, health professionals and consumers. There is always the question—how much of it and what type of fibre is necessary for overall health?

The current Canadian recommendations identify about 38 grams of fibre per day for men and 25 for women. Adding more fibre to the diet can definitely help improve health; however, it is important to start slow and drink more fluids as people increase their fibre intake.

The latest trend is classifying fibre based on its functionality. The two broad categories of fibres are insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fibres in the diet add bulk and roughage. They help with digestive health and gut transit time. Insoluble fibres are found in whole grains such as barley, corn, wheat and some fruits and vegetables (often in the skin).

There are a variety of soluble fibres. Some have been shown to help increase satiety (the feeling of fullness), lower blood cholesterol and control blood sugars, while others have been shown to promote a favourable gut environment. Soluble fibres are found in foods such as barley, oat bran, pulses (beans, chickpeas, lentils) and certain fruits and vegetables.

Both insoluble and soluble fibres are present in varying proportions in plant foods and the body needs both types of fibre to stay healthy. Researchers are focusing on the identifying and naming specific fibres and their roles in health. For example, there are a range of soluble fibres such as beta-glucan, psyllium and inulin that have very specific functions for heart health, satiety and promoting digestive health.

Barley is a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fibre. It has a large amount of the viscous, soluble fibre, beta-glucans. The consumption of beta-glucans has been shown to decrease total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which are both risk factors for heart disease (1). Barley beta-glucans and heart health will be discussed in detail in the next post.

Be sure to include a mixture of fibres from a number of foods including barley to ensure the many positive health benefits. Jane Dummer’s column, The Barley Balance, appears monthly on She can be reached at

1. AbuMweis, SS, Jew, S, Ames NP. Beta-glucan from barley and its lipid –lowering capacity: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Eu J of Clin Nutr. 2010;64:1472-1480.