Fibre - something as a gastro/gut health dietitian I am always talking about! Here is a summary of what fibre is, how it can impact your health & how you can increase your dietary fibre intake.
What is fibre? Fibre is a complex carbohydrate which is found in plant foods - fruit, vegetables, wholegrain carbohydrates, nuts, seeds, beans & pulses are all great sources - which is not digested by the small intestine (unlike most other nutrients) and therefore reaches the large intestine (colon) undigested - depending on the type of fibre, it is either partially or fully digested here.
Traditionally, fibre has been broken down into two classifications; soluble fibre - fibres which are soluble in water, that form a gel-like substance in the gut - and insoluble fibre - fibres which are not fully broken down and are used to 'bulk' out your stools. However as fibre is becoming more understood, we need to look beyond such simple categorisation and consider other characteristics in addition to the solubility, including viscocity & fermentability.
How can fibre impact your health? Fibre has been linked to many health benefits; these include lowering your risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure (1). From a gastrointestinal point a view, a higher fibre intake can aid constipation and reduce your risk of developing diverticular disease (2). A higher fibre intake has also been linked with a 'healthy' gut microbiome, which in itself has many health benefits (3).
Increasing your fibre intake: In the UK, we are recommended to eat 30g of fibre per day - with the average adult only having 18g of fibre, there is still a way to go. 30g may sound a lot, however if by having a few 'tricks' up your sleeve, there are some easy ways to increase your intake. Here are a few suggestions:
Swap your meal carbohydrates to a wholegrain/higher fibre version - switch to seeded bread, serve potatoes with the skin on (jacket potato, potato wedges or mini roasties), choose alternative pastas - lentil, beetroot or brown pasta & switch to wild or brown rice (if you arent keen on these, try half white & half alternative)
Keep a pot of mixed seeds & chopped nuts in the cupboard to add to meals - nuts and seeds can be added to so many dishes! Perfect on top of cereal, yoghurt, salads, soups and even sprinkled across the top of many main dishes. Not only will you be increasing your fibre intake, they also add flavour and a different texture to the dish
Add beans & pulses to meals - lots of dishes work really well with beans & pulses added to them. For example kidney beans to mince, chickpeas to a curry or mixed beans to a tomato pasta sauce. In addition to the added fibre, they are a cheap source of protein, so will make your meat (if you eat it) go further
Aim for at least 1/3 of your plate to be vegetables or salad - fresh, frozen, tinned all count, so it should be easy to make sure you have some source of vegetable(s) available at home at all times. It can be so easy to get stuck in the habit of buying the same foods, so next time you are at the supermarket, spend a bit more time looking at all the different vegetables available and try something new
Consider your snacks, as well as your meals - if you are someone who likes to snack (which there is nothing wrong with), your snacks could really help you on your way to the 30g fibre requirement. For example rather than a standard packet of crisps, try a higher fibre option such as wholegrain or lentil crisps, add a handful of berries to a yoghurt or swap biscuits for oatcakes (you can buy ginger, chocolate & coconut flavours, which taste great!). A portion of fruit, a handful of nuts or some vegetable sticks with a spoon of hummus are also some great options
It is important to note, that if you currently have a low fibre intake and want to work on increasing it, do this gradually - a sudden increase in fibre intake can cause bloating & excess flatulence in some people.
Published October 2021
1. JW Anderson et al. Nutr Rev. 2009;67(4):188-205, Health Benefits of Fibre
2. FL Crowe et al. Gut. 2014;63(9), Source of dietary fibre and diverticular disease incidence: a prospective study of UK women
3. AM Valdes & J Walter, BMJ. 2018; 361 Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition & health