4 Reasons We All Need to Eat More Fibre
When we think about healthy food, we think of all the components our body needs to function, like protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Fibre isn’t really considered a nutrient as it passes through the body without being absorbed. So why is fibre so important then?
What is fibre?
Dietary fibre can be found in plant-based foods and is a term for a certain type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested in the small intestine, and therefore passes relatively unchanged into the large intestine (unlike sugars and starch).
“Our bodies require both soluble and insoluble fibre, and most plant-based foods provide a combination of both.”
Fibre is often split up in two categories:
- Soluble fibre: dissolves in water and becomes a gel-like substance in the body.
- Insoluble fibre: doesn’t dissolve in water and retains its form in the body.
You can source fibre from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas), nuts and seeds.
“Government guidelines recommend a fibre intake of 30g a day”
Our bodies require both soluble and insoluble fibre, and most plant-based foods provide a combination of both.
Why do we need it?
- Digestive Health and Bowel Function
Fibre’s primary role is to help maintain a healthy digestive system. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to our stool and makes it softer. This helps to decrease the gut transit time and prevents symptoms such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.
By improving bowel function, fibre may reduce the risk of certain bowel diseases such as diverticular disease or haemorrhoids.
Furthermore, the bacteria that form the gut microbiome feed on fibre, so fibre is essential for optimising gut health. Head here for more practical tips for improving your gut health!
2. Blood-Glucose Levels
A decent fibre intake has a positive effect on our blood glucose levels. Soluble fibre assists with the slowing down of passage through the gut, and gives digestive hormones more time to act, therefore preventing carbohydrate from being so quickly absorbed by the small intestine. This supports us with a sustained energy level throughout the day, preventing that afternoon slump!
This has been associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For people who have diabetes, incorporating more fibre into their diet can help to control their blood glucose levels.
3. Cardiovascular Health and Cholesterol
There’s evidence that fibre also helps with the prevention of coronary heart disease (CHD) and improves serum lipid levels. Fibre lowers the total cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein, the “bad” cholesterol) without affecting HDL (high-density lipoprotein, the “good” cholesterol). When cholesterol levels are high, fatty streaks and plaques are deposited along the walls of our arteries. This can make them dangerously narrow and lead to an increased risk of CHD.
4. Weight Control
A higher fibre intake has been associated with populations who have lower body weights. Fibrous foods are often bulky and, therefore, filling. This helps us to feel satiated for longer periods of time, which can help with weight management, by preventing overeating.
Diets that are high in fibre are typically lower in fat and energy density, both of which are helpful for maintaining a healthy body weight.
If weight loss is your goal, and you’re stuck with where to start, we’ve put together our 8 top bits of advice for you on how to get going.
Quick and Easy Tips to Increase Your Fibre Intake
Government guidelines recommend a fibre intake of 30g a day. In the UK, the average intake is 17.2g/day for women and 20.1g/day for men, and for this reason, you can find below some tips to help and increase your fibre intake.
- Choose a high fibre breakfast. Include oats, or granola or opt for toast with wholemeal bread. Why not add some fruits to your breakfast bowl as well.
- Include plenty of vegetables with meals, either as a side dish or added to sauces, stews or curries.
- Snack on fruit, dried fruit, crudites, nuts and seeds. If possible leave the skin on.
- Add pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries and salads.
- Regularly swap pasta and white rice for wholemeal pasta, brown rice, and grains, such as quinoa.
Due to its wealth of benefits and emerging research, greater focus should undoubtedly be placed on increasing the amount of fibre we consume. Many dietary improvements are relatively minor and easy to implement, for example increasing the quality of carbohydrates we consume.
Working on this area of our diet sounds like a no-brainer to us!
Dahl WJ, Stewart ML. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Nov;115(11):1861-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.003. PMID: 26514720.
Slavin J. (2013). Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. Nutrients, 5(4), 1417–1435. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5041417