Fibre: Why is it so important?

Most people know that fibre is important to keep the digestive system healthy, yet four out of five of us are not eating enough.1 The benefits of eating a high fibre diet stretch far beyond digestive health…

What is fibre?

Fibre, also known as ‘roughage', is the indigestible part of plant foods.

Insoluble fibre is the type of fibre that's best at preventing and alleviating constipation. Wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals and fruit and vegetables all contain insoluble fibre.

Soluble fibre may help to lower your cholesterol and regulate your blood sugar (glucose) levels. Sources include oats, fruit, vegetables and pulses such as beans, chickpeas and lentils.

How much fibre should we be eating?

Nutritionists recommend that we should eat 18-24g of fibre per day.2

What are the health benefits of eating a diet rich in fibre?

Both soluble and insoluble dietary fibre act in a number of ways to help maintain good health:

  • Combat constipation: Fibre increases stool weight, speeding up the passage through the gut2
  • Helps protect against the risk of cancer: Fibre helps remove potential cancer causing substances from the body by speeding up the time it takes food to be digested 2
  • Can help you slim: The extra bulk that fibre contains will help you feel fuller for longer2
  • Keeps your digestive system healthy: Some types of fibre are broken down by friendly bacteria to produce health promoting short chain fatty acids that provide energy for the body to keep the inside of the bowel wall healthy3
  • Controls the level of blood glucose: Fibre slows down the digestion of foods, preventing sudden spikes in blood glucose levels2
  • Eating fibre is good for the bowels: It reduces the risk of some bowel disorders such as diverticular disease, constipation or haemorrhoids, and may also help protect you against colon cancer4

Top tips:

  • In order to enjoy all the benefits of fibre it is important to vary the sources of it in the diet. Diets with fruits, vegetables, lentils/beans and whole grains not only provide dietary fibre but many other nutrients essential to good health
  • Aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Beans and pulses are a great and cheap source of soluble fibre
  • Use wholemeal flour instead of white flour when baking
  • Check food labels to work out if a food is high or low in fibre
  • Make sure that you drink enough fluids (8 glasses a day or 1.5 - 2 litres)

 References:
1. Gregory et al (2000). National Diet and Nutrition Survey: aged 19-64 years. The Stationary Office, London.
2. Dietary Fibre. British Nutrition Foundation. 2004
3. Macfarlane S and Macfarlane GT (2003). Regulation of short chain fatty acid production. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 62:67-72.
4. Bingham SA, Day NE, Luben R et al. (2003) Dietary fibre in food and protection against colorectal cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC):an observational study. Lancet 362 (9388): 1000.
5. L Brown et al. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fibre: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999 69: 30-42.