Fibre: What Is It, and How Much Do We Need?
The importance of consuming sufficient dietary fibre is paramount to maintaining our health. However, most of us are not getting enough fibre on a daily basis.
What is fibre?
Fibre is a form of carbohydrate that we get from plant foods.
There are two main types of fibre that are good for us – soluble and insoluble: soluble fibre is usually found in the fleshy part of fruits, vegetables, peas, beans, etc., while insoluble fibre can be found in the skins and seeds of fruit and vegetables, brown rice, peas, beans and the bran (outer layer) of grains and cereals.
Resistant starches can also be classed as dietary fibre – they are found in foods such as grains, seeds, legumes, unripe bananas, and starchy foods like potatoes and rice when left to cool down.
What are the benefits?
- Lowering cholesterol – fibre encourages growth of good bacteria in our gut and binds with cholesterol to help lower ‘bad cholesterol’ and help prevent toxic bacteria and yeasts forming.
- Helps control blood sugar balance – after eating fibre helps slow down the uptake of sugars from food, which can help reduce symptoms such as anxiety, tiredness, low energy, headaches, mood swings, difficulty in concentrating, and those associated with type 2 diabetes.
- Healthier bowel movements – low fibre in the diet may mean stools move more slowly, which leaves more time for water to be absorbed from food and into the rest of the body. This has the potential to promote smaller and harder-to-pass stools which can lead to constipation and, if straining too much, haemorrhoids. A high fibre diet means stools are softer and bulkier, reducing occurrences of constipation and diverticular disease (diverticulosis).
- Likely to help some with IBS symptoms – a higher fibre diet has been known to help some people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms
- Reducing hunger – fibre can make you feel fuller for longer
- Aids prevention of fat storage -increasing fibre in your diet may assist with preventing some excess fat storage
- May support cancer prevention – some medical research studies have indicated that adequate fibre intake can help prevent some forms of cancer
- Has been known to lower the risk of heart disease – greater intake of fibre tends to increase overall cardiovascular health, with research showing that this may lower the risk of coronary heart disease.
Which foods are high in fibre?
Some good examples of high-fibre foods include:
- legumes (lentils, beans, peas)
- fruit: prunes, pears, berries, mangos, raisins, apples
- vegetables: artichokes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach
- grains and grain-rich foods: quinoa, wholemeal pasta, wholemeal spaghetti, wholemeal bread
- cereals: bran such as wheat bran and oat bran
How much fibre do I need?
The recommended daily intake of fibre often varies between governments and health organisations, however, one prevalent factor appears to be that we are consuming considerably less than the recommended levels.
In the UK, most people do not eat enough fibre (the average intake is 17.2/day for women and 20.1g/day for men).
The recommended average intake for adults is 30g per day.
It is fairly easy to monitor your own intake as all foods typically have fibre content listed on their nutrition labels. If in doubt, aim to eat more fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains from a variety of sources.