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An article in the Lancet Medical Journal1 shows that as well as keeping your blood and cholesterol levels down, fibre reduces the chances of heart attacks, strokes and diseases such as type-2 diabetes. Here, nutritionist Rob Hobson explains what this life-saving nutrient is, and how you can get enough of it from your diet.
There are two types of dietary fibre - insoluble and soluble. Don't worry too much about these terms, though, as most high-in-fibre foods contain both. Insoluble fibre is what used to be called 'roughage'. Foods high in insoluble fibre include wheat bran, dried fruit, corn, wholegrain cereals, wholegrain bread, nuts and seeds. It passes through the gut without being broken down, which helps keep our digestive system working properly and our bowel movements regular.
Soluble fibre, so called because it absorbs water, is a gluey substance found in foods such as oats, barley, rye, beans, lentil, bananas, pears, apple, carrots, potatoes and golden linseeds. It helps hydrate our intestines and keeps stools soft.
Dietary fibre plays a key role in a healthy digestive system, which is the bedrock of good health. Its benefits don't stop there, however. Fibre is also known to help reduce cholesterol, as well as the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disease, and diabetes and bowel cancer. Fibre can also help weight loss by bulking out the diet and promoting satiety - the feeling of fullness - between meals. And, according to a study in The American Journal of Epidemiology, a high dietary fibre intake is linked to a lower risk of death from any cause.2 The study also showed a 10% reduced risk of dying for every 10g increase in fibre intake per day.
The current UK recommended intake for fibre is 30g per day, but the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) of the UK population shows that, on average, women consume about 17g, and men about 21g a day. Teenagers have the lowest intake at only 15g of fibre per day. Researchers from the University of Otago, New Zealand now say there are health benefits for pushing past the 30g mark, too.3
Certain fibres like inulin help the bacteria in your gut to flourish. For example, foods rich in compounds called lignins and oligosaccharides (found in bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic and oats) act as prebiotics in the gut, which 'feed' your gut bacteria and help them function normally.
|White bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals||Wholegrain varieties|
|Mayonnaise and condiments||Hummous and other bean-based dips|
|White potatoes||Sweet potatoes|
|Chocolate bars||Bars or bounce balls made from dried fruit, nuts and seeds|
If you're still struggling to reach the recommended fibre intake, consider a supplement.
Rob Hobson MSc RNutr is a Registered Nutritionist who has worked with some of the UK’s largest food and health companies and performs training in the public health sector (including government agencies and the NHS). Rob contributes regularly to UK press publications and has a monthly column in Women's Health magazine.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1Reynolds, A., Mann, J., Cummings, J., Winter, N., Mete, E. and Te Morenga, L. (2019). Carbohydrate quality and human health: a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses, The Lancet
2Kim, Youngyo & Je, Youjin. (2014). Dietary Fiber Intake and Total Mortality: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies, American Journal of Epidemiology
3University of Otago (2019). High intake of dietary fibre and whole grain foods reduces risk of non-communicable diseases