Fibre isn’t exactly the sexiest of nutrients, but it’s a very important one. We need it in our diet to help our gut function normally and it can also help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Dietary fibre is the edible part of a plant that is not digested or absorbed in the small intestine but is completely or partially broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. The majority of us need to eat more fibre and the recommended intake has recently changed to take into account its diverse roles in health.

Adults are now advised to eat 30g of fibre a day. Current fibre intakes in the UK are well below this and the objective set by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) is to increase the UK population’s fibre intake from poor to very good:

Age group (years) Fibre intake:

current vs. new recommendations

2-5 11 v 15g
5-11 15 v 20g
11-16 16 v 25g
Over 16 18 v 30g

 

There are different types of fibre that have different effects on our bodies; some help us to stay full, others help to lower cholesterol, and some can slow the rise in blood sugar levels following a meal. Bran fibres, especially wheat bran, are the best choice for good digestive health. Soluble fibre, such as that found in oats, barley, beans and pulses can help maintain normal cholesterol levels. It is therefore recommended that we choose a wide range of higher fibre foods to reap the health benefits.

If we don’t eat enough fibre, our digestive system will struggle to work well and we’re more likely to feel sluggish and bloated. It’s been estimated that two out of every five adults are likely to experience problems with digestive discomfort on a regular basis. Research has suggested that increasing fibre intake by as little as 5g per day improves symptoms of bloating, sluggishness, constipation and improves general wellbeing. In a recent study, participants reported positive effects in less than five days of increasing fibre intake. Those eating high fibre foods reported feeling less fat, more mentally alert, happy and energetic, less tired and stressed and had fewer headaches. Another benefit of fibre is that it can help us feel fuller for longer, which can aid weight loss.

But what foods are considered good sources of fibre? Food labelling can be confusing to us all. Guidelines state that a food is ‘high fibre’ if it contains at least 6g of fibre per 100g, and is a ‘source of fibre’ if it contains at least 3g of fibre per 100g.  Surprisingly, there are not many fruit and vegetables that are ‘high’ in fibre, although many unrefined starchy foods are.

Here’s a table to show the best food choices if you’re thinking about increasing your fibre:

Type of food

Good sources of fibre
Starchy foods Porridge, oat bran, high fibre breakfast cereals, sweet potato, potato with skins, wholemeal or wholegrain bread and pasta
Beans and PulsesBaked beans, hummus and dahl
FruitsPear, apple, raspberries and blackberries, plums and prunes, banana and orange
NutsAlmonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter
SeedsLinseeds and chia seeds
Vegetablesfrozen mixed vegetables from frozen, carrots, Parsnip, peas, canned sweetcorn and broccoli

Eat a high fibre breakfast cereal (more than 6g of fibre per 100g) and top this with fruitAnd here are 8 top tips on how to increase your fibre:

  1. Switch to granary bread over white
  2. Include beans or pulses into meals at least a couple of days each week. Try beans on toast, bean salads or add a tin of beans or chickpeas into casseroles
  3. Fluid helps fibre to work so accompany each high fibre choice with a (non-alcoholic!) drink
  4. Add vegetables to sauces, such as bolognaise
  5. Leave skin on vegetables and fruit and aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  6. Keep a supply of frozen vegetables in the freezer so you are never without
  7. Mix seeds or nuts into yoghurt

Kirsty Bamping RD MNutr
Kirsty is a registered dietitian and works for the NHS. She obtained a Master of Nutrition (Dietetics) degree from the University of Nottingham. Kirsty is interested in assessing, diagnosing and treating diet and nutrition problems at an individual and wider public health level.


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