How to add more fibre to my diet
In this article, I will be talking about dietary fibre, what it is, what foods you can find it in, how much you should be aiming to eat and how you can increase your intake if you are not eating enough. My goal is to give you realistic, sustainable tips and guidance to get you to achieve specific nutrition goals, and this article focuses on the goal of increasing fibre intake. Let’s get going!
What is fibre aka dietary fibre?
Dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate found solely in plants. It differs from other carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. This is because, unlike other types of carbohydrate, it is not digested/absorbed in the small intestine to provide energy; instead, it reaches the colon (large intestine) and provides minimal energy.
Soluble and insoluble fibre
There are two key types of fibre, soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. You may see these descriptions being used and so it is useful to understand what they are. Soluble fibre includes pectins and beta-glucans present in fruits and oats for example, while insoluble fibre includes cellulose, present in nuts and wholegrains. Most foods that contain fibre, tend to contain both types – insoluble and soluble, and both are beneficial.
Where can I get good sources of dietary fibre?
Plant foods including:
• Fruit e.g. oranges, pears, berries and melon
• Vegetables e.g. sweetcorn, carrots, green beans and broccoli
• Potatoes with skin
• Lentils and other pulses
• Wholegrain cereals and cereal products including:
• oats, barley and rye, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain bread
• Nuts and seeds
How does fibre in my diet benefit my health?
Fibre helps to:
• keep your digestive system healthy / improve gut health (certain types of fibre provide a food source for ‘friendly’ gut bacteria which helps them to increase and produce substances which are thought to protect the gut);
• reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers e.g. bowel cancer
• improve weight management;
• bulk up stools and make waste move through the digestive tract easier and more quickly;
• prevent constipation;
• reduce cholesterol levels (e.g. a fibre present in oats and barley called beta-glucan when consumed in the right amounts – 3g+/day alongside a healthy diet.)
"Key info: The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) stat that approximately 45% of bowel cancer could be prevented through diet, physical activity and weight"
How much fibre do I need to eat?
The majority of people in the UK do not eat enough dietary fibre, having on average 18g per day. The recommended amount of fibre intake for adults aged 17 years and above is 30g per day.
For children, consumption is also lower than the recommended amounts and so an increase is also needed.
The table below highlights the recommended fibre intake broken down by age groups. Check which one you fall into. Knowing what your goal is, is the first step, then making gradual tweaks to your diet to meet this, is the next. I will be sharing some tips and guidance on how to do this.
It can seem daunting when you see how much fibre we are recommended to eat in a day, but there are a variety of foods that you can consider including in your diet to get you heading in the right direction. The key is to do so gradually – Slow and Steady Win's the Race.
How can I increase my fibre intake?
A healthy, balanced diet can give you enough fibre, particularly, if you eat your 5-a day of fruits and vegetables and opt for wholegrain food options.
Opt for high fibre cereals such as no added sugar muesli, bran flakes, porridge wholewheat biscuit cereal.
Try to incorporate some fresh fruit, dried fruit, seeds and/or nuts to your breakfast.
Choose potatoes with skins such as wedges, baked potato, boiled new potatoes and similarly with sweet potatoes.
Stock up on frozen vegetables which can be easily added to various meals and will be readily available when you need them.
Eat fresh, dried or tinned fruit (in natural juice) as a snack or for dessert.
Opt for wholemeal, granary or seeded wholegrain breads instead of white. If family members prefer white bread, why not start off with introducing 50/50 bread or best of both.
Wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice are a good choice and are a higher fibre alternative to white varieties.
Add chickpeas, beans, lentils and other pulses to salads, stews and curried for added fibre and protein.
Include snack options such as unsalted nuts or seeds, vegetable sticks/crudité, fruit, oatcakes or rye crackers.
Incorporate plenty of vegetables into meals e.g. added to curries, sauces, stews or as a side dish, or even mix in some mixed veg into you rice (also a great way to get children to eat more veg).
· If planning on increasing your fibre intake, do this gradually.
· Water: our body is approximately two-thirds water, therefore drinking sufficient fluid to enable us to remain hydrated is key. It is also very important when increasing fibre intake. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids (about 1.5 – 2 litres /6-8 glasses per day for adults)
· Aim to do at least 150 minutes per week/30 mins a day of moderate-intensity activity, which can be broken down into 10min blocks.
Below is one example meal plan for a day that shows foods that if eaten throughout the day will help you achieve your recommended amount of fibre over a day, as an adult. This is not the only approach to meeting your fibre intake recommendations. There is no one size fits all, however, using the tips and guidance shared, can help you along the way.
Amanda is a specialist Nutritionist registered with the Association for Nutrition (ANutr) with many years’ experience and expertise in helping people improve their health and nutrition through empowerment, motivation and knowledge delivered through effective evidence-based guidance and behaviour change methods. To book Amanda request her expertise here.