Fibre

This fact sheet aims to provide information on fibre and how to increase your intake.

What is fibre and what does it do for us?

  • Simple carbohydrates (sugars) which are easily digested and absorbed in the small intestines to provide quick release energy
  • Complex carbohydrates which include:
    Starch: digested and absorbed in the small intestines to provide slow release energy.
    Fibre: not digested or absorbed in the small intestine; passes into the colon. Fibre comes in several forms which have various beneficial effects depending on properties such as solubility, viscosity andfermentability.

Did you know?

The digestive tract is an amazing 9 metres long.

How much should we eat?

Guidance is for adults to consume at least 30g of fibre per day.

Risks associated with too little fibre

Too little fibre increases the risks of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers (e.g. colorectal and breast), high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and constipation. Too little fibre may also adversely affect brain, kidney, and eye health.

Sources of fibre in the diet

Foods with fibre contain different proportions of different types of fibre; all types of which are beneficial, in different ways, to overall health. Cooking and drying foods does not remove the fibre.

Some particularly good sources of each fibre:

Soluble: dried beans, oats, oat bran, rice bran, barley, apples, peas, strawberries, citrus fruits, potatoes.

Insoluble: wheat bran, whole grains, cereals, seeds, many fruit and vegetable skins.

Fermentable: beans, légumes (plants producing pulses).

Non-fermentable: fruits and vegetables Viscous: beans, legumes, linseeds,asparagus, oats, Brussels sprouts.

Non-viscous: asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks.

An interesting type of fermentable fibre is resistant starch. This is a type of starch that we cannot digest; it ends up in the colon where it is fermented, and is thus classified as a fibre. Resistant starch is found in e.g. wholegrains, legumes, and potatoes.

BOTTOM LINE!

To get all the fibre you need, eat a balanced and healthy diet including: wholegrains (e.g. oats and bran in porridge oats and oatcakes), wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, wholemeal, granary or high fibre white breads, fruit, vegetables  (with skins on where possible), legumes, pulses (e.g. lentils, beans, chickpeas), nuts and seeds.

Check labels and know your fibre

Check nutritional labels on products to find out how much fibre they contain. Not all foods will have the fibre content, so it is good to have an understanding of the main sources of fibre in your diet. Check out some common foods and the difference in fibre dependent on your choice of product:

Check labels and know your fibre

Beware

A sudden increase in fibre intake can cause bloating, excess gas, constipation (if not drinking enough), or diarrhoea (from too much insoluble fibre), so make sure you are well hydrated and gradually increase fibre intake, so your digestive system has time to adapt.

Although it is rare, it is possible to eat too much fibre (> 38g per day) which can cause bloating, excess gas, abdominal cramping and mineral deficiencies; minerals bind to fibre and can be eliminated from the body before they have a chance to be absorbed.

An example 30g fibre day!

It is not difficult to get, at least, your 30g fibre a day with the right food choices.

Tips on how to increase your fibre

  • Have high-fibre breakfast cereal and add fruit.
  • Have healthy snacks handy e.g. fruit, yoghurt, nuts/seeds, oatcakes or cut vegetables with hummus.
  • Mix seeds into yoghurt.
  • Leave the skin on vegetables and fruit where possible.
  • Make your own sandwiches; use wholemeal bread and take a salad to go with it.
  • Make your own vegetable soup and have with wholemeal, granary or rye bread.
  • Use wholemeal pasta and brown rice instead of white versions.
  • Frozen and tinned vegetables can be as nutritious as fresh, always have some in the house.
  • Add pulses such as beans and lentils to dishes.
  • Add extra vegetables to sauces e.g. bolognaise, chilli and curry.