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Are you getting enough fibre?

August 21st 2018 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment


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The proliferation of gluten-free and low carb diets is thought to be just one of the reasons that people in the UK are only consuming around half of the amount of fibre that they should be. It’s time to put fibre back on the menu

Fibre - are you getting your fill? Chances are, you’re not - the NHS sets a target of 30g a day for fibre intake, but most UK adults clock up between 15-18g. Our overly-refined Western diet is commonly blamed for our poor intake, but carb-dodging diets and even the increasing popularity of less fibre dense, processed gluten-free foods have been implicated in the fact that, as a nation, we’re falling seriously short on “roughage”, so to speak.

In terms of the impact of low-carb diets in particular, nutritionist Lily Soutter believes that the health consequences of swerving carbohydrates where fibre is concerned could be twofold:

“Low carbohydrate diets are ‘trendy’ but not necessarily healthy. By omitting starchy carbohydrates from the diet, a huge proportion of fibre is also omitted which is often why those on low carb diets suffer from constipation.”

“Interestingly, low carbohydrate diets, which can also be low in fibre, have been associated with a change in gut bacteria. This is because fibre is fermented in the large intestine and our gut bacteria use this fibre as fuel to flourish and grow.”

What’s worse is that a recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed that 90% of women were consuming 18g of fibre or less per day, compared with 70% of men. Before you pour yourself a bowl of (surprisingly sugary, FYI) bran flakes, here’s what fibre can do for you, and how to make sure it’s abundant in your diet without resigning yourself to living on WeetaBix et al alone.

Fibre - more than a “regularity” enhancer

Okay I realise we’re on our second set of quotation marks of the article so far but there’s no beating around the bush here - fibre is essential for softening your stools, adding bulk and preventing constipation. What you may not know is that research suggests that getting your daily quota of fibre can play a part in preventing diseases such as type one and type two diabetes, reduces the risk of heart disease by 40 per cent, decreases your risk of suffering a stroke by seven per cent, reduces the likelihood of bowel cancer in particular, reduces joint pain in arthritis patients, improves sleep quality and helps to prevent obesity while maintaining general digestive health. High five for fibre.

Where you’ll find fibre

Certain breakfast cereals are already on your radar, but fibre is a plant-based phenomenon. Meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are all devoid of fibre.

Types of fibre

There are three main “genres” (there I go with the quote marks again) to consider:

Soluble fibre

So-called owing to the fact that it dissolves in water, this is the key kind to consider if you’re constipated. Lily explains the process:

“Soluble fibre dissolves in the water within the gut and forms a gel like substance. This helps to soften stools in order pass smoothly through the bowel. Soluble fibre may also reduce the amount of cholesterol within the blood.”

Lily recommends oats, barley, rye, fruit and root vegetables, beans and pulses and flaxseeds in particular as good sources of soluble fibre.

Insoluble fibre

Again, as indicated in its name, this type of fibre doesn’t dissolve in water. Lily clarifies why it’s crucial:

“Insoluble fibre passes through the gut without being broken down. It gives substance to your stool and helps other foods move through the digestive system more easily.”

To get more of it, Lily advocates eating wholemeal bread, bran, cereals, nuts and seeds, and stresses that “for optimal health we need a combination of both soluble and insoluble fibre, and many fibre rich foods contain a mix of soluble and insoluble fibre, but in varying proportions.”

Resistant starch

In The Clever Guts Diet, Dr Michael Mosley gets rather excited about this one, to the extent of setting up his own study:

“Resistant starch is a type of starch that, as its name implies, resists digestion in your stomach and small intestine and reaches your colon largely intact. You are unlikely to get big blood sugar spikes after eating resistant starch, and you won’t hold onto many calories from it either.”

“Once it reaches the large intestine, it feeds the “good” bacteria which release it and digest butyrate, a chemical that reduces inflammation and strengthens the gut wall.”

“You’ll find lots of resistant starch in grains, seeds and legumes. You also get it in unripe bananas and green peas. One of the more surprising places you’ll find it is in pasta or rice that has been cooked and cooled- cooking and cooling the pasta or rice changes the structure of the starch within it, making it more resistant to digestion.”

Mosley conducted an experiment with pasta in partnership with the University of Surrey, whereby volunteers ate pasta hot, cold and reheated. The results were music to the ears of pasta fans:

“Volunteers’ blood sugar levels were measured after each meal and we discovered, as expected, that eating cold pasta led to a smaller spike in blood glucose and insulin than eating freshly boiled pasta.”

“But then we found something we didn’t expect- cooling, cooking and reheating the pasta had an even more dramatic effect. Or, to be precise, eating reheated past resulted in an even smaller effect on blood sugar levels than eating cooled pasta. In volunteers, it reduced the rise in blood sugar levels by 50 per cent.”

In short, after a long day, reheating that pasta bake may pay off health as well as time-wise.

How to up your intake

In a word: gradually. Hitting your system with a whack of fibre could do more harm than good where bloating, cramping and wind is concerned. No one wants that. It’s also important to stay hydrated to help fibre to pass through your system. Getting your five a day and swapping white, refined carbohydrates for wholegrain and wholemeal options will naturally boost the fibre in your diet too- Lily gives us an example by way of your daily bread:

“White refined carbohydrates, have been stripped of their fibrous outer layer. Wholemeal bread for example contains 2.2g fibre per slice, whereas white bread may only contain 0.8g fibre per slice.”

Bread isn’t the only staple source of fibre of course...

Fibrous food ideas

Lily has an affordably fibrous list of tricks and tips:

“Fill half your plate with vegetables at each meal.

Cereals and grain are cheap to buy and easy to cook. Wheat, oats, barley and rye fall under this category. A daily bowl of porridge or two slices of wholegrain toast can instantly give your breakfast a fibre boost.

Keep the skin on your potatoes.

Sprinkle fibre-rich seeds over your porridge, salads or ever-popular avocado on toast.

Beans, chickpeas and lentils are all full of fibre while being cheap and easy to cook.

Eat high fibre snacks such as popcorn, fruit, fruit dipped in nut butter, nuts, seeds, wholegrain crackers with hummus or bean dips.

Flaxseeds (linseeds) or chia seeds are also a great sources of fibre.”

If you’re a fan of smoothies but concerned they don’t deliver where fibre is concerned, you can up the fibre content by way of an exotic health powder, namely baobab fruit pulp. It’s a bit superfoody and ‘out there’, but nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik backs it:

“Baobab is nearly 50 per cent fibre, half soluble and half insoluble, so adding a couple of teaspoons of sweet and citrussy baobab powder to a fresh smoothie or stirring through porridge is an easy way to support a healthy gut”

Try Aduna Baobab, from £5.99 for 80 g, if that sounds up your alley, and if you’re looking to identify whether a food you’re buying is fibrous, bear in mind that 6g or more of fibre per 100g is considered high fibre.

When you actually might not need extra fibre

Going fibre-nuts isn’t for everyone, as Dr Mosley highlights:

“If you have a diseases gut, adding more fibre to your diet may actually make you feel worse.”

Similarly, the NHS warns against a willy-nilly approach to fibre if you’re suffering with digestive problems:

“If you have a digestive disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may need to modify the type and amount of fibre in your diet in accordance with your symptoms. Your GP or a dietitian can advise you further about this.”

Just on a closing note, if you’re suffering with diarrhoea, the NHS advises limiting the amount of insoluble fibre you consume until you’re better to prevent further gut irritation. Otherwise, go forth and be fibrous.

How healthy is your breakfast cereal, really?

Follow Anna on Twitter @AnnaMaryHunter, Lily @LilySoutter, Dr Michael Mosley @DrMichaelMosley and Eve @EveKalinik

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