How much fibre is included in your diet? Fibre is an important part of a healthy balanced diet and can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and can also improve digestive health. It is suggested that you should aim for at least 30g a day.
Fibre is only found in foods that come from plants, foods such as meat, fish and dairy products don’t contain any fibre. There are two different types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Each type of fibre helps your body in different ways, so a normal healthy diet should include both types. Eating wholegrain cereals and plenty of fruit and vegetables helps to ensure both adults and children are eating enough fibre. However, if you have a digestive disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may need to modify the type and amount of fibre in your diet in accordance with your symptoms.
Soluble fibre can be digested by your body, it dissolves in the stomach creating a sticky gel-like substance – a type of glue. This ‘glue’ traps certain components of food, fats and sugars, making them more difficult for the body to absorb. This means that sugars (carbohydrates) are absorbed more slowly and blood sugar levels are kept steadier for longer. Foods high in fibre and complex carbohydrates tend to have lower GI scores, sugars are released more slowly. People who have high fibre diets are less likely to suffer from high cholesterol. Fibre can bind to and absorb cholesterol in the intestine before it can enter the bloodstream. This is especially the case for low-density lipoproteins (LDL) the ‘bad’ cholesterol which, in high levels, can lead to serious health problems. People who want to lower their cholesterol are therefore advised to eat high fibre foods as well as reducing their intake of saturated and trans fats.
Foods that contain soluble fibre include:
- oats, barley and rye
- fruit, such as bananas and apples
- root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes
- golden linseeds
Insoluble fibre can’t be digested, it cannot dissolve in water or your stomach. It absorbs water and increases in size providing bulk as it passes through your gut without being broken down and helps other foods move through your digestive system more easily. Insoluble fibre keeps your bowels healthy and helps prevent digestive problems. If you have diarrhoea, you should limit the amount of insoluble fibre in your diet.
People who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) should be cautious about eating foods high in insoluble fibre on an empty stomach. Although insoluble fibre is important to a healthy diet it may trigger symptoms of IBS, it is therefore recommended that sufferers mix high insoluble fibre foods with other less fibrous foods to minimise problems.
Good sources of insoluble fibre include:
- wholemeal bread
- nuts and seeds (except golden linseeds)
Although we gain no energy or nutrients from fibre, as we cannot digest it, it helps to keep our digestive systems healthy and can have other beneficial effects – like lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of certain cancers. Eating foods high in fibre will help you feel fuller for longer which may help if you are trying to lose weight. If you need to increase your fibre intake, it’s important that you do so gradually as a sudden increase may make you produce more wind (flatulence), leave you feeling bloated, and cause stomach cramps. It’s also important to make sure you drink plenty of fluid.