Confused About Fibre? Here's All You Need To Know!
According to the last Irish National Adult Nutrition Survey in 2011, over 80% of Irish adults are not meeting the recommended daily intake of fibre with the average intake just 19g. Despite this statistic being 8 years old, it is doubtful much has changed as we are now consuming more foods that are processed, high in refined carbohydrates, and overcooked, all of which are low in fibre.
Ideally adults should aim to consume at least 30g fibre every day, with an optimum intake of 50g as this has been associated with a variety of health benefits. Dietary fibre is the edible part of plants that cannot be digested or absorbed, or used as energy by the body. It therefore escapes digestion in the small intestine and passes into the large intestine, where it is partially or completely fermented by the bacteria that reside there. When we think of fibre we commonly think of it as essential for the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and to help bowels function efficiently.
However fibre has other benefits too:
Lowers blood cholesterol – soluble fibre has been shown to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels. It forms a thick gel binding to excess cholesterol, particularly LDL, or bad, cholesterol, preventing it being reabsorbed by the body.
Balances blood sugar – soluble fibre helps slow down the absorption of sugar (glucose), this helps to prevent a spike than subsequent drop in blood sugar levels after eating. Balanced blood sugar levels can help reduce sugar cravings, energy slumps and snacking.
Keeps you satiated – foods high in fibre are usually nutrient dense and lower in calories meaning you feel fuller for longer. This helps maintain a healthy weight or may even aid weight loss.
Lowers risk of heart disease – via all of the mechanisms above, a diet high in dietary fibre may help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Gut health – although we don’t digest dietary fibre, the bacteria in our gut ferment it when producing short chain fatty acids, these are the main source of nutrition for the cells in your colon. This fermentation also increases the beneficial bacteria in your gut and helps with the production of some vitamins too, including vitamin K.
Reduces bowel disorders – insoluble fibre helps relieve constipation by increasing stool (poo) weight and decreasing transit time (time it takes for the food to move from the mouth to when the waste is excreted as a bowel movement). It also reduces the risk of haemorrhoids, diverticulitis and bowel cancer.
So how can we increase our intake of fibre to 30g, or even 50g fibre, each day?
Well first, let’s take a look at the different types of fibre and where they are found in the diet. There is actually a huge variety of different fibres found in foods, but the main types include:
Type 1 - Soluble Fibre
It's able to dissolve in water and form a gel-like substance, softening stools. It ismainly
found in the softer, pulpy, inner portion of plants and includes pectin, beta-glucans and
psyllium. Sources include apples, pears, berries, root vegetables, oats, lentils, rice, peas,
beans, flaxseed and chia seed.
Type 2 - Insoluble Fibre
This does not dissolve in water so adds bulk to stools, supporting bowel movements.
It is often found in the tougher outer portion of plant foods (skin, husk, hull) and includes
cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Sources include wheat bran, wheat products (such as
cereals, pasta, bread, pitta, wraps, biscuits), corn bran, potato skins, some vegetables such
as green beans, cauliflower, courgette and celery, unripe bananas and tomato skins.
Type 3 - Fermentable
The fibres that our friendly gut bacteria are able to digest (ferment) and use as
fuel. These are commonly known as ‘prebiotics’ and include inulin, galactooligosaccharides
(GOS) and fructooligosaccharides (F.O.S.). Sources include Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onions, chicory root and garlic.
Now I know how important fibre is, HOW can I increase my intake?
- Choose whole, unrefined foods and try to cook from scratch rather than eating processed, packaged foods.
- Increase your daily intake of vegetables and fruits up to at least 7 and 3 portions, respectively. Aim for a rainbow of colours each day to ensure variety.
Add vegetables to homemade soups, sauces, chilli or curries.
Add vegetables such as spinach, kale or beetroot to smoothies. Frozen courgette or avocado are game changers for smoothies whilst also upping your veg and fibre intake!
Increase legume intake by adding beans, peas and lentils to soups, stews, curries and salads.
Choose wholegrain instead of white. Wholegrains contain the outer bran layer, the inner germ layer and the starchy core. In more processed or ‘white’ foods the bran and the germ are removed reducing both fibre and nutrient content. Wholegrains include oats, buckwheat, barley, rye, quinoa and spelt.
Swap your breakfast cereal for a warming bowel of porridge topped with berries and some nuts and seeds; or a bowel of chia pudding.
As healthy snacks choose, nuts, seeds, berries, or vegetable crudités with hummus/guacamole.
Tip: if you are used to eating a low fibre diet it may be best to increase fibre intake gradually to minimise any side effects such as a bloating, stomach cramps or gas as your body adapts.
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