When we talk about healthy food, we always think about nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t consider fibre as a nutrient as it cannot be absorbed by the body. However, fibre isn’t just for digestion, higher intakes of dietary fibre are also associated with reducing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and bowl cancer. Involving fibre rich foods in a healthy diet can also improve weight management.
In the UK, only 9% of adults meet the recommended amount of fibre.1 On average men and women consume 71% and 60% of the recommended amount of fibre, respectively. In 2015 the dietary recommendation for fibre increased to 30g per day for adults, but since then, there has been no supporting policies to increase intakes and fibre intakes have not changed.
What is fibre?
Dietary fibre is only found in plant-based food, it is a certain type of carbohydrate (unlike other carbohydrates such as sugars and starch), cannot be digested in the small intestine and so reaches the large intestine.
There are two types of fibre:
- Soluble fibre: dissolves in water and gastrointestinal fluids. It is transformed into a gel-like substance, which is digested by bacteria in the large intestine. Soluble fibre includes pectin and beta glucan. (Check our article to learn more about beta glucan).
- Insoluble fibre: does not dissolve in water and pass through our body without changing its form. Insoluble fibre includes plant cellulose.
Benefits of fibres
- Lowers cholesterol
Soluble fibre forms gel like layer in the small intestine, blocks reabsorption of fats.
- Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
It is well established that reducing blood cholesterol reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.
"Oat beta glucan has been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol. Blood cholesterol lowering may reduce the risk of heart disease." (European Food Safety Authority, Article 14) This benefit is achieved by consuming at least 3g of beta glucan per day.
- Regulates blood sugar (glucose) levels
Soluble fibre can slow down the absorption of carbohydrate which it can prevent sharp spikes in blood sugar levels.
For people with type 2 diabetes, including more fibre in their diet can improve their blood sugar control.
- Feeds good gut bacteria
Soluble fibre rich food feeds the good bacteria that form the gut microbiome, helping them thrive longer and producing short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids have been shown to protect against bowel cancer.
- Helps weight management
Soluble fibre can help weight management by keeping you feeling satisfied, reducing appetite and calorie intake.
- Relieves and prevents constipation
Insoluble fibre helps prevent intestinal blockage and constipation by speeding up food move through the stomach and intestines and reduce the amount time of processing waste.
- Reduces risk of bowel cancer
By preventing constipation and reducing the amount time of time waste stay in the colon. insoluble fibre helps reduce the risk of colorectal cancer (bowel cancer).
How to increase your fibre intake?
To increase your fibre intake, you can:
- Choose high fibre breakfast, includes oats, bran flakes, wholemeal or seeded bread. It's also a good idea to add fruits and nuts to your breakfast bowl.
- Include plenty of vegetables in your meal.
- Snacks on fruits, vegetable sticks, oatcakes, or unsalted nuts.
- Add pulse like beans, lentils or chickpeas in your cooking.
- Choose wholegrains, like quinoa, brown rice or wholemeal pasta.
- NDNS: results from years 9 to 11 (2016 to 2017 and 2018 to 2019)