Along with protein, fats, and carbohydrates, fibre is another essential nutrient that the human body needs to stay healthy – but most Brits aren’t getting enough of it.
The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) says that adults need around 30g of fibre in their diets, but that UK adults consume just 20g on average.
It’s a key nutrient for keeping our bowel movements regular, and the BNF says a high fibre intake has been found to lower the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
A high fibre consumption can also be one of the best ways to keep our gut health in check.
What is fibre?
Fibre, also known as roughage or bulk, is a part of plant foods that cannot be completely broken down in the digestive tract.
"Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that we can’t digest in the small intestine. Instead, it is either completely or partially broken down (fermented) by the trillions of bacteria living in your large intestine," Orla Stone, registered nutritionist and gut health specialist at Deeply, says.
"Every additional 7g of fibre in the daily diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 9%, colon cancer by 7%, stroke by 7% and type 2 diabetes by 6%."
Stone adds that, at present no age group in the UK is meeting their daily fibre requirement. Chronic constipation is a pressing side effect of low fibre consumption.
"One in seven adults in the UK suffer from constipation, with 211 people being admitted to hospital every day because of the condition," Stone adds.
The link between fibre and gut health
One of the key functions of fibre, Stone says, is that it helps to keep your stools soft.
"This means your waste products can pass easily and quickly through your body, helping to keep your gut lining and the bacteria living there healthy," she adds.
"Fibre also helps to control blood sugars, as well as helping to reduce cholesterol levels."
Stone adds that gut bacteria thrives on prebiotic fibre which has been shown to support gut health, and boost mood, mental wellbeing, immune and skin health, as well as sleep quality.
"Healthy gut bacteria also helps to reduce inflammation in the body and chronic inflammation is the root cause of many of the chronic diseases of today – such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and cognitive decline," she adds.
How to include more fibre in your diet
Below, Stone shares her top tips for incorporating more fibre into your diet:
Add a can of mixed beans to your regular dinner.
A can of green lentils can easily be added to spaghetti bolognaise or a casserole.
Sprinkle some mixed seeds over your food such as yoghurts, salad or curry.
Add some mixed frozen vegetables to your dinner instead of a single variety.
Don’t bother chopping the skin off your vegetables and fruit – they are full of fibre.
Choose whole grain varieties of bread over white.
Swap your packet of crisps at lunch for a bag of popcorn.
Swap your mid-morning biscuit for a handful of mixed nuts.
As a treat, have a few squares of dark chocolate (instead of plain or white) as it contains polyphenols which your gut bacteria love, and also contains some fibre.
The different types of fibre
Stone says that there are several different types of fibre and these can all play separate roles in your gut health. These include:
Beta glucans: Oats and barley cereals.
Resistant starch: Ripe banana, potatoes, and rice that has been cooked and allowed to cool.
Fructans: Onions and garlic.
Pectin: Apples, citrus fruits and carrots.
Prebiotic fibres: Apricots, grapefruit, chicory root, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, hazelnuts and pistachios.
"We now know that having a diverse community of bacteria living in your large intestine is key to your health, as they all have different roles to play," Stone says.
"To get this diversity you need to feed your bacteria a variety of different fibres. Plant foods often contain more than one type of fibre, so your food choices should be based around choosing a variety of plant foods and fibres every week rather than focusing on one fibre type. Current advice is to include 30 different types of plant foods over the week."
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