Why do we need fibre in our diet?

Fibre is starting to become a bit of a buzz word – with good reason! This powerful nutrient is part of the carbohydrate family (yes – that group of foods so many people try to wrongly avoid!). Unlike other nutrients, fibre is non-digestible, meaning it isn’t broken down in the small intestine, and passes through into the large intestine. Here, fibre starts to get to work offering us numerous health benefits.

How is fibre beneficial?

Many of you may have heard that fibre helps prevent constipation, and this is true. Fibre helps bulk out stools, easing movement through your bowel. This is due to a type of fibre known as soluble fibre, which forms a gel-like substance with water, which softens your stools.

Oats contain a type of fibre called beta-glucans, which have been linked to helping reduce cholesterol levels, which in turn is suggested to reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Some research has indicated that for each 8g increase in your daily fibre intake, that you may reduce your risk of developing heart disease by 19% and type 2 diabetes by 15%. Fibre can also aid weight management, since this nutrient takes longer to digest than non-fibrous carbohydrates, therefore helping you feel full for longer. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting functions of fibre is that it’s able to feed the bacteria living in our gut. Our gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, most of which are bacteria. Bacteria are often thought to be bad, but the ones living in our gut are (typically) beneficial to our health. These good bacteria feed from the fibre in your diet and as a result produce beneficial short chain fatty acids, which can affect other functions in the body, such as appetite control.

How can I eat enough fibre?

Adults in the UK are recommended 30g/day fibre. Unfortunately, most adults are only eating 18g/day. Improvements are definitely needed, but don’t make drastic changes overnight. Increasing your fibre intake too quickly might leave you with a few digestive symptoms, such as bloating and flatulence. Gradual changes are key. 

Fibre can be found in numerous foods, predominantly plant-based foods. Look for whole grains – can you switch white rice for brown rice? Why not choose wholemeal bread the next time you shop for bread? Are you getting your 5-a-day? Can you aim for 10-a-day? Why not sprinkle nuts and seeds onto salads or your morning oats? All these foods are fibre packed and great for your gut.

It’s always important to drink plenty of fluids when having fibre, particularly if you’re increasing your fibre intake. You can do this by always having a glass of water with your meals.

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