We often hear about the protein or calorie content of our food however, there is an important macronutrient that is often forgotten about that is vital for our health, fibre.
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that is found naturally in plant-based foods but unlike other carbohydrates, it is not digested in the small intestine and reaches the large intestines largely intact. Fibre is vital in keeping our digestive system healthy and promoting regular bowel movements. This important macronutrient is found in plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Research has also shown that fibre can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. In fact, increasing your fibre intake by just 8g per day (roughly a bowl of muesli with fruit and nuts) has been linked to -
- 19% reduction of your risk of heart disease
- 15% reduction of your risk of type 2 diabetes
- 8% reduction of colon cancer
- 7% reduction of risk of death of from call causes
Fibre can be classified by its viscosity (viscous vs non-viscous) and fermentability (fermentable vs non-fermentable). Viscous fibres form a gel-like substance that sits in the gut, this can affect how quickly we absorb certain nutrients like sugar and can prevent spikes in our blood sugar. Fermentable fibres are digested by our gut bacteria and can affect the health of our gut microbiome. Those who suffer from digestive problems like IBS might struggle tolerating highly fermentable fibre. Fibre-containing foods often have a mix of different fibre types which is why it is important to have a variety of plant-based foods in your diet.
Fibre is able to add bulk to our stools by absorbing water, this means the stool moves more quickly through the gut and are softer, and easier to pass. This means that a diet rich in fibre, alongside adequate hydration and regular activity can help prevent constipation.
Fermentable fibres such as inulin from onions, leeks, wheat and oats and galacto-oligosachhrides, found in pulses like beans, lentils and chickpeas provide a food source for the beneficial bacteria in our gut. When they ferment (eat) these types of fibre they produce beneficial compounds as a by-product, known as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs have several beneficial effects including -
- they support a healthy and diverse gut microbiome
- they provide energy for the cells in the gut which is important for preserving the integrity of the gut barrier
- may stimulate hormones involved in appetite and glucose control.
Adults should consume 30g of fibre however in the UK we are consuming much less than this (18g). Therefore, it is recommended to most adults to increase their intake of fibre. 30g of fibre roughly equates to 2 pieces of fruit, five portions of vegetables, three portions of whole grains and one to two portions from nuts, seeds or legumes each day.
This might sound like a lot, but there are some simple swaps you can do to increase your fibre content -
- Choose high-fibre cereals like muesli, bran flakes and porridge. Adding fruit to your morning cereal will also increase your fibre intake
- Swap white rice, bread or pasta for brown and wholegrain versions
- Keep your skin on fruits and vegetables
- Snack on nuts, vegetable sticks and dips (e.g. hummus), oat cakes
- Buy frozen vegetables so you always have a supply of vegetables
- Add beans and pulses to add to sauces, stews and curry
As fibre is fermentable, it can cause some bloating and gas. This is completely normal and to try and avoid this, we recommend building up your fibre content slowly over a period of time.
We generally don’t recommend weighing your food therefore a good way to track if you’re getting enough fibre is by measuring your plant points. We want to be eating at least 30 different plant-based foods per week. To learn more about plant points read this article, or download this pdf to track your plant points.