Fibre – What’s the big deal?

Fibre will be a familiar word to most people, with many already knowing that it makes up an essential part of a healthy diet and is needed to keep us ‘regular’, but often this is about as far as fibre knowledge goes. In reality, fibre plays a much bigger part than you may think in keeping us healthy and it’s not just our bowels that can benefit from it.

 In July 2015, the government changed the guidelines for the recommended daily intake of fibre and now advises that anyone over the age of 16 should be eating 30g of fibre daily. 

 This amount is actually a far cry from what most people consume, with the average person consuming just 18g a day! With one slice of wholemeal bread containing just 2.2grams of fibre, this gives an idea of just how short most of us are falling when it comes to fibre consumption. The recommendations also advise that 2-5 year olds consume 15g of fibre daily, 5-11 year olds 20g daily and 11-16 years olds are recommended to consume 25g of fibre daily. If you are the parent of a fussy eater, then achieving this amount could present even more of a challenge.

So why is it important that we try and heed this advice and meet this recommendation and what and how should we be eating to give us the best sources of fibre to improve our health?  

Fibre and your health

Fibre has long been associated with a healthy digestive system, in particular the bowel. However we now realise that fibre is actually just as vital for providing other health benefits too. Research shows that fibre helps lower cholesterol levels, aids weight loss, improves bowel and digestive health and helps maintain normal blood sugar levels in the body, which is required to stabilise energy levels. Fibre also reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, with figures showing that for every 10g more fibre eaten each day, the risk of heart disease can fall 14%.  Fibre is also important in the fight against cancer, as we know that adequate fibre intake reduces the risk of certain cancers including colorectal cancer. So with all that in mind, it’s clear to see the importance of fibre in the diet and why it’s such a big deal!

Did you know that there are two main groups of fibre?

The first thing to know is that not all fibre is the same, in fact there are two different types of it and both have different effects on the gut and give different health benefits. There is insoluble fibre and soluble fibre and it’s important you consume both types in your diet for good health. So what is the difference? Soluble fibre slows down the digestion of food, so keeps you fuller for longer and improves absorption of vitamins and minerals in the small intestine. This is in contrast to insoluble fibre, which promotes bowel regularity and is essential for the formation of healthy stools. It is also required for a healthy digestive system and generally speeds up digestion.

Many foods actually contain both types of fibre, but the different foods will contain each type of fibre in different amounts. If for example you are trying to lose weight, it is better to be eating foods that that have a high soluble fibre content, as this will give that ‘fuller for longer’ sensation and thus help in reducing calorie intake.

Fibre, constipation & sluggish bowels

Fibre and constipation is often the connection most people have heard of and if your bowels are sluggish or irregular, increasing the amount of fibre in your diet may help. In some cases, having too much fibre or too much of the wrong type of fibre could also be the cause of the problem.

Delamere Dairy’s Goats’ milk is an excellent source of magnesium
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 If you suffer with sluggish or irregular bowel movements, both soluble fibre and insoluble fibre can help, although insoluble forms of fibre usually have more benefit here. If you are already getting enough fibre in your diet and still suffer with constipation, then increase the levels of magnesium in your diet as this mineral helps to draw water into the bowel and form a more passable stool. Of course this does rely on you having enough fluid in your body to start with, so make sure you drink water and lots of it!! Delamere Dairy’s Goats’ milk is an excellent source of magnesium and is often better absorbed and utilized by the body than the magnesium found in cows’ dairy, so may help improve bowel function.

So what foods are good sources of fibre?

It is important to remember that fibre is ONLY found in foods deriving from plant sources and is not present in animal based foods, which are high in protein. The table below outlines some common foods and which type of fibre they are highest in. You can easily see from the amount of fibre per serving in these foods, that depending on which foods you choose to consume, they may or may not allow you to reach your 30g recommended daily allowance! So choose wisely.

Foods high in SOLUBLE fibre

Amount of total fibre in 1 serving (grams)

Foods high in INSOLUBLE fibre

Amount of total fibre in 1 serving (grams)

 

Grains E.g. oats, rye, barley

 

1 cup = 8-14g

Wholemeal bread

per slice = 2g

Vegetables E.g. potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery, sweet potato, broccoli,

1 cup = 2g

Seeds E.g. flaxseeds, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower

1 tbsp = 3g

Fruit E.g. apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries

1 cup = 2-3 g

Pears: 1 cup = 5g

Raspberries: 1 cup = 8g

Nuts E.g. almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios

1 ounce = 3g

Lentils

 

1 cup = 15.6g

Bran

1 cup = 60g

Pulses E.g. peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, bakesd beans

1 cup = 11g

Kidney beans: 1 cup = 19g

Cereals E.g. porridge, museli, weetabix, shredded wheat & any fortified cereals

1 cup = 26g

Avocado

1 avocado = 13.5g

Brown rice

 

1 cup = 3.5g

Quinoa

 

1 cup = 5.2g

Dates

1 cup = 12.8g

Top tips for increasing fibre in your diet

If your diet does not contain much fibre or you have been advised to increase it, make sure you increase it gradually so your digestive system can adjust to this dietary change steadily without causing a negative impact on your digestive health. By implementing the tips below, you are far more likely to reach that 30g daily intake that’s recommended.

 

  • Eat high fibre cereal for breakfast. Research shows people who do this have up to 62% higher intakes of fibre than people who don’t and are 80% more likely to achieve the recommended daily fibre intakes.Pick a cereal which contains at least 5 or more grams of fibre per serving.
  • Eat whole grain foods by replacing white bread and pasta with whole wheat varieties and choose brown rice over white. Whole grain foods are far higher in fibre than white varieties.
  • Leave the skin on fruits and Vegetables. The fibre found in fruit and vegetables is found in their skin, so don’t peel fruit or vegetables before eating!
  • Choose high fibre snacks. If you snack between meals make sure you choose snacks that are high in fibre such as fruit, vegetables, seeds or nuts. In fact the best snack options to keep you fuller for longer are ones that consist of fibre and protein, so adding creamy Delamere Dairy goats’ cheese to a slice of rye bread or a rice cracker is delicious, and easy to eat on the run if you are in a rush!
  • Add barley and beans and lentils to your frequently cooked dishes. By adding these simple ingredients to your normal cooking you will increase your daily fibre intake a lot. You can add barley to casseroles and soups and add beans, lentils and peas to soups, salads, dips and casseroles.

Does EVERYONE need more fibre?

Although the new guidelines state that adults should aim to consume 30g of fibre daily, there are certain health conditions where this advice may not be beneficial and could lead to an aggravation of certain symptoms. Some people suffering with IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) are sometimes advised by their GP to reduce their fibre intake, which may help better manage their symptoms. For people suffering with IBS, soluble fibre is often the best type of fibre to consume, as in some people it is less likely to aggravate symptoms.

Other conditions where fibre can be more harmful then helpful is in the case of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, where sufferers will often struggle to achieve adequate fibre intake due to their condition. People with Crohn’s and colitis can often suffer cramping and severe stomach and bowel pain when too much fibre is consumed due to the inflammation present in the intestines. Anyone suffering with thee two conditions often have to work out what fibre foods they can and can’t tolerate and eat them only in very small portions. So remember, there are often exceptions to guidelines and it’s important to remember that although we may all be human, we don’t all function in the same way, and so what is right for one person may not be helpful to another!

Increasing your fibre intake will positively influence your health in many ways and taking little steps towards achieving the 30g a day recommendation will make a big difference over time.

  • Dietary fibre & Health: An Overview, 2008. Nutrition & Dietetics
  • Dietary Fibre: A chemical category or a health ingredient? 2013. Bioactive carbohydrates and Dietary Fibre
  • Fibre and its role in heath and disease, 1998. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition
  • Carbohydrates and health. 2015. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

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