We all know that fibre is great for our health but over the years we’ve seen fibre dominate news headlines, specifically in relation to bowel (colorectal) cancer, and make its way loud and clear onto the front of pack labelling on a range of products in the supermarket. This can all make it a little confusing!
So, what is fibre?
Dietary fibre can be separated into two categories: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre.
Soluble fibre includes pectins and beta glucans (found in foods like fruit and oats) and these dissolve in water, forming a sticky gel which helps you to form soft stools that are easy to pass. It also supports our gut health as it is easily digested by the bacteria living in our colon.
Talking of supporting our gut health, did you know that 70% of our immune cells lie within our intestine and so is a key element of our immune system!
Insoluble fibre includes cellulose (found in wholegrains and nuts) and this type of fibre does not dissolve in water and is difficult for your gut bacteria to digest but adds bulk to your stools, making them heavier and so easier to pass.
Most plants contain a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibre but may vary in the exact amounts.
How much fibre do I need?
In 2015, the UK government published new guidelines regarding the recommended daily fibre intake. It was announced that the population’s fibre intake should increase to 30g of fibre per day (for adults aged 17 years and over) .
Currently, we only consume about 18g of fibre per day so most of us should start trying to work out ways to best incorporate good sources of dietary fibre into our diets.
Recommended intake of fibre are below:
2-5 years - 15g per day
5-11 years - 20g per day
11-16 years - 25g per day
17 years and over - 30g per day
Where can I get fibre from?
Rich sources of fibre include; wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta, bread and rice, fruits such as pears, apple and oranges, vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and sweetcorn, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses.
You may see claims such as ‘source of fibre’ or ‘high in fibre’ on food packaging on the supermarket shelves. These nutrition claims are regulated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to ensure that consumers are not misled by unsubstantiated, exaggerated or untruthful claims. Only genuine nutrition claims that meet the strict criteria can be legally included on pack.
For a product to state that it is a ‘source of fibre’, the product must contain at least 3g of fibre per 100g or at least 1.5g of fibre per 100kcal.
For a product to state that it is ‘high in fibre’, the product must contain at least 6g of fibre per 100g or 3g of fibre per 100kcal.
How does fibre benefit my health?
The NHS states that there is strong evidence that eating plenty of fibre is associated with a lower risk of; heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Also, choosing foods high in fibre may also make us feel fuller, while also helping keep our digestive system healthy and preventing constipation.
The EFSA states that dietary fibre can reduce our risk of heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes, as foods such as oats and barley contain beta glucan, and consuming 3g or more of beta glucan daily, as part of a balanced diet, may help to reduce cholesterol levels .
It is also important to remember that many sources of fibre, such as fruit and vegetables, also contain lots of other beneficial compounds such as vitamins, minerals, flavonoids and polyphenols - all of which are thought to contribute to keeping our bodies healthy.
Top tips for how to include more fibre in your diet
1. Make simple swaps: choose a higher-fibre breakfast cereal such as Weetabix or porridge oats and switch to wholemeal varieties of bread, pasta and rice. If you’re not ready to go the whole way yet, how about choosing 50/50 bread and swapping out half of your white pasta for wholemeal, and work on slowly increasing this over time.
2. Stock the freezer up: if you have a freezer, stock up on frozen fruit and veggies. This way you will always have some on hand to add to curries, stews, pasta sauces and risotto. Frozen fruit and vegetables are convenient and have a long shelf life, they also count towards your 5-A-DAY and contain the same nutrients as fresh varieties.
3. No more potato peeling: potatoes on their own do not count towards one of your 5-A-DAY however potato skins do. So next time, keep the skins on your potatoes to increase your fibre intake (and to also save time with no peeling).
This post was written by Holly Roper, who is a recent MSc Human Nutrition graduate & is a Registered Associate Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition. Holly’s interests lie in health promotion & food sustainability and you can follow her on instagram @nutritionbyhols
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