Fibre is an essential nutrient for our bodies. You may have heard about it in the context of keeping your bowels regular and your digestive system healthy, but it is an important part of our diet for other reasons too.
It’s a type of carbohydrate found in plants, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. Fibre is the part of the plant that we can’t digest. It’s the stuff that helps us digest other foods. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, both types are important for our health.
The World Health Organisation recommends that adults should eat at least 25 grams of fibre per day. Unfortunately, the average person doesn’t consume enough fibre, and this can cause issues like constipation, as well as much more serious issues which we will discuss later.
Soluble fibre is a great source of fibre for digestion as it dissolves in water and makes a thick gel in your gut. It moves through your digestive system very slowly, helping to slow down the rate at which sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream, which maintains your energy levels. It helps to lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It also helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer. It is found in fruit, oats, barely nuts and psyllium.
There are two different types of soluble fibre: pectin and gum. Pectin is found in fruits and vegetables. Gum, or mucilage, is found in the cell walls of plants. Examples of foods containing gum are beans, barley and carrots.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and passes through your gut without getting digested. It helps the body to process foods, absorb nutrients and push waste through your bowels, keeping your gut and bowels healthy. It is found in wheat, corn, rice, and vegetables.
Your gut bugs and fibre
Fibre is not digested by the human body, however that doesn’t mean that it’s never digested. The friendly bacteria in your intestines actually break down fibre, which is why it’s considered an indigestible carbohydrate.
In the large intestines, fibre acts as a fuel source for the trillions of bacteria that live there to thrive. These bacteria are responsible for a host of processes and functions including supporting the immune system, reducing inflammation and vitamin synthesis.
The benefits of a fibre rich diet
There are numerous, including:
- It helps to keep our digestive system healthy and helps to prevent constipation.
- It helps to regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep blood sugar in check, thus reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- It can support weight loss by creating a feeling of fullness and keeping hunger in check.
- It may lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- It may reduce the risk of some cancers such as bowel cancer.
- It helps to soothe inflamed linings of the intestines, easing symptoms of IBS and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).
- It can assist in the elimination of toxins and heavy metals from the gut.
So, how does a fibre-rich diet affect your brain? A study found adding more fibre in your diet may reduce the risk of dementia. A fibre-rich diet can improve your brain function and protect it from disease and mental decline. Increasing your intake of fibre from fruits, vegetables and cereals can help to improve your memory and brain function. This could be because your brain is made up of about 60% fat and when you eat fibre, it helps you to process fat.
Are you eating the recommended daily amount?
But what on earth does 25 grams of fibre even look like? Take a look at the 3 scenarios below to see how your daily diet fairs and if you need to up your fibre intake.
1 cup of porridge = 1.3 grams
1 cup of raspberries = 8 grams
1 medium apple with skin = 4.5 grams
2 medium raw carrots = 3 grams
100 grams hummus = 6 grams
1 ounce of almonds (23 nuts) = 3.5 grams
Total = 26.3 grams
2 Weetabix = 3.8 grams
Medium banana = 3 grams
Medium baked potato with skin = 4 grams
1 cup baked beans = 10 grams
1 cup boiled broccoli = 5 grams
Total = 25.8 grams
3/4 cup bran flakes = 5.5 grams
1 ounce chia seeds (2 tablespoons) = 10 grams
1 cup strawberries = 3 grams
3 cups air-popped popcorn = 3.5 grams
1 cup brown rice cooked = 3.5 grams
Total = 25.5 grams
Here are some additional high fibre foods you can have to hand to give you a boost on days you need to up your fibre game:
1 cup boiled lentils = 15 grams
1 cup boiled black beans = 15 grams
1 cup green peas boiled = 9 grams
1 medium avocado = 10 grams
1 cup pearled barley cooked = 6 grams
1 cup quinoa cooked = 5 grams
Simple ways to add more fibre into your diet
It doesn’t have to be difficult, here are some of our favourite ways of adding more fibre into our diets throughout the day:
- Add a teaspoon of psyllium powder or oat bran to your breakfast cereal.
- Add a teaspoon of chia seeds, linseeds or sunflower seeds to your porridge.
- Add a pinch of flaked chia or hemp to your yogurt.
- Swap white bread with whole grain bread.
- Swap white rice with brown rice.
- Add beans or pulses to salads.
- Add lentils to a vegetable curry, soup or bolognaise.
- Make a fruit and veg smoothie in the blender.
- Add extra vegetables to your meals.
- Snack on carrot sticks and bell peppers with hummus.
- Snack on mixed nuts.
Checking food labels will help you identify the best choices. A product should contain at least 6g of fibre per 100g to be classed as high fibre.
If you are not used to eating high amounts of fibre, increase into your diet gradually to avoid symptoms such bloating, cramping and gas. Also be sure to increase your water intake to help to move the extra fibre through your gut.
If you have IBS or suffer from IBD such as Chron’s or ulcerative colitis, then you may need to eat less fibre, or different types of fibre, especially when you are going through a flare up. In these instances, ensure you get support from a qualified nutritionist to advise you.
There is no denying the importance of fibre in the diet, but it is useful to point out that it is only one small part of an overall healthy diet. A healthy diet is important for body, mind and spirit and a high fibre diet is not the only solution, but it can go a long way in helping us to reach our health goals.