According to irishheart.ie over 80% of people living in Ireland are not getting enough fibre into their daily diet.
It is recommended that adults should aim to consume at least 30g fibre every day, with an optimum intake of closer to 40-45g daily. This is a vast contrast to the figures showing some adults are getting as little as 14g.
When we think about fibre, we tend to think of it in relation to the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and how it helps the bowels function optimally, but there is so much more to fibre than that. Before we do a deep dive into fibre, let’s break it down and get a better understanding of what it is and where it comes from.
Dietary fibre is the edible part of plants that cannot be digested or absorbed, or used as energy by the body. It, therefore, escapes digestion in the small intestine and passes into the large intestine, where it is wholly or partially fermented by the bacteria that reside there.
However, fibre has other benefits too:
- Lowers blood cholesterol – soluble fibre has been shown to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels. It forms a thick gel binding to excess cholesterol, particularly LDL, or bad, cholesterol, preventing it from being reabsorbed by the body.
- Balances blood sugar – soluble fibre helps slow down the absorption of sugar (glucose), which helps to prevent a spike or subsequent drop in blood sugar levels after eating. Balanced blood sugar levels can help reduce sugar cravings, energy slumps and snacking.
- Keeps you satiated – foods high in fibre are usually nutrient dense and lower in calories meaning you feel fuller for longer. This helps maintain a healthy weight or may even aid weight loss.
- Lowers risk of multiple diseases – via all of the mechanisms above, a diet high in dietary fibre may help to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and colorectal cancer, new research has found.
- Gut health – although we don’t digest dietary fibre, the bacteria in our gut ferment it when producing short-chain fatty acids, these are the main source of nutrition for the cells in your colon. This fermentation also increases the beneficial bacteria in your gut and helps with the production of some vitamins too, including vitamin K.
- Reduces bowel disorders – insoluble fibre helps relieve constipation by increasing stool weight and decreasing transit time. It also reduces the risk of haemorrhoids, diverticulitis and bowel cancer.
So how can we increase our intake of fibre to 30g, or even 50g fibre, each day?
Well first, let’s take a look at the different types of fibre and where they are found in the diet. There is actually a huge variety of different fibres found in foods, but the main types include:
Now I know how important fibre is, HOW can I increase my intake?
1. Choose whole, unrefined foods and try to cook from scratch rather than eating processed packaged foods.
2. Increase your daily intake of vegetables and fruits up to at least 7 portions. Aim for a rainbow of colours each day to ensure variety.
3. Add vegetables to homemade soups, sauces, chilli or curries.
4. Add vegetables such as spinach, kale or beetroot to smoothies. Frozen courgette or avocado are game changers for smoothies whilst also upping your veg and fibre intake!
5. Increase legume intake by adding beans, peas and lentils to soups, stews, curries and salads.
6. Choose wholegrain instead of white. Wholegrains contain the outer bran layer, the inner germ layer and the starchy core. In more processed or ‘white’ foods the bran and the germ are removed reducing both fibre and nutrient content. Wholegrains include oats, buckwheat, barley, rye, quinoa and spelt.
7. Swap your breakfast cereal for a warming bowl of porridge topped with berries and some nuts and seeds; or a bowl of chia pudding.
8. As healthy snacks choose, nuts, seeds, berries, or vegetable crudités with hummus/guacamole.Tip: if you are used to eating a low-fibre diet it may be best to increase fibre intake gradually to minimise any side effects such as bloating, stomach cramps or gas as your body adapts!