Time and again we are told to fit more fibre into our diets. But why is it so important?
As a population, our 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, compared to the British Nutrition Foundation’s recommendation of 30g fibre per day. When you start to check out the makeup of even the most high fibre foods, you’ll realise that is a lot to pack in.
That won’t have been the first time you’ve been told to add more fibre into your diet, we’re sure. We so often hear about how good it is to eat a high-fibre diet, but what is actually so good about it (other than keeping us regular in the toilet department)?
We asked nutritionists to explain what fibre actually is and how it helps, in case you were wondering.
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What is fibre?
There are two different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. You might be more familiar with insoluble fibre, 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 holistic 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.
Dietician Valerie Agyeman says that “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”.
What are the benefits of fibre?
There are so many benefits to increasing your fibre intake. In addition to keeping your hormones regulated and your digestion regular, both types of fibre also soak up water, which makes you feel fuller for longer.
Registered Dietician Tai Ibitoye also explains that upping your fibre intake even slightly can help to control 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”.
How to eat more fibre
If you think you need to up your fibre intake, Cheryl recommends starting off slow, because “an increase of fibre in the diet can cause side effects like gas and bloating”. 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. She says is that “fibre supplements don’t provide the variety of fibres, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients that foods do”. However, “some people may still need a fibre supplement if dietary changes aren’t sufficient or if they have certain medical conditions”.
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, like 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 sweet potatoes with the skin on.
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