A plate of rice, veg and lemon

The benefits of a high-fibre diet: nutritionists explain why you should eat more fibre

Posted by for Strength

Eating enough fibre has more benefits than just keeping you regular — it’s actually one of the best things you can do for your health. 

Every week we seem to find out yet another benefit of eating fibre. The latest headline, stemming from a recent study published in Cell Press, is that consuming a variety of different fibres can lower cholesterol while improving gut diversity. 

Yet, despite the regular updates, the population’s fibre intake is well below par. According to the NHS, most of us don’t eat anywhere near enough of it: as it stands, women are only getting an average of 17.2g of fibre a day, compared to the British Nutrition Foundation’s recommendation of 30g. 

While fibre used to be thought of as a nutrient that keeps us ‘regular’, there are way more benefits to eating it. Here are some to know… 

What is fibre?

There are two different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. You might be more familiar with insoluble type, which is known primarily for aiding digestive health and preventing constipation. 

Soluble fibre is just as important though. It can be found in oats, citrus fruits and beans, and it feeds the good bacteria that lives in your large intestines. This is really important because, as nutritionist Cheryl Telfer explains, it helps to control the metabolising of the gut bacteria, “which impacts immune, behavioural and neurobiological functions”. In other words, soluble fibre can help keep everything from your immune system to your hormones well-balanced. 

“Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fibre”. But, it’s important to remember that the amount of each type varies from food to food. “To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fibre food,” says dietician Valerie Agyeman.

Fruit and veg at a market stall
Fibre: in order to maintain good gut health and keep a healthy, balanced diet, fibre is key

What are the benefits of fibre?

Did you know 70% of your immune system lives in your gut? So in addition to improving digestion, fibre can support immunity. And that’s just one of the many, many benefits of fibre. 

According to registered dietician Tai Ibitoye, upping your fibre intake even slightly can help to support blood sugar levels. “This has to do with the fact that soluble fibre forms a gel with water, which helps to slow down the entry of glucose to the bloodstream,” she says.

Another recent piece of research published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that soluble fibres found in foods such as oats and legumes help ward off dementia thanks to supporting gut bacteria. And fibrous foods can also support short-term mental health, as serotonin is produced in our gut

The 2022 paper from Cell Press also emphasised the importance of diversity. Researchers linked a type of soluble fibre called arabinoxylan to reduced cholesterol, while long-chain inulin (found in foods like onion and Jerusalem artichokes) was associated with a decrease in inflammation markers and an increase in gut bacteria. Interestingly, too much inulin was actually shown to increase inflammation. 

“Our findings show that the benefits of fibre are dependent on fibre type, dose, and participant – a landscape of factors resulting from interactions between fibre, the gut microbiome, and host,” said lead researcher Michael Snyder, a geneticist at Stanford School of Medicine. In short: it’s personal. 

How to eat more fibre

If you think you need to up your fibre intake, Cheryl recommends starting off slow. “An immediate increase of fibre in the diet can cause side effects such as gas and bloating,” she says. She also suggests chewing fibre-rich foods thoroughly, hydrating yourself between meals, and avoiding foods that are harder on digestion such as raw vegetables. 

Valerie recommends starting off with whole foods, and then only topping up your fibre intake with supplements if necessary. “Fibre supplements don’t provide the variety of fibres, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients that foods do,” she says. “However, some people may still need a fibre supplement if dietary changes aren’t sufficient or if they have certain medical conditions”. 

Luckily, adding fibre into your diet is easier than you might think. You can find fibre in everything from cereals and wholegrain bread to leafy vegetables and legumes. For many, making some simple switches in eating habits will be enough, such as swapping out the white bread for brown when making your morning toast. Tai also recommends stocking up on brown pitta breads, whole-wheat biscuits, and eating baked and baked potatoes with the skin on. 

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