Explains why you should be eating more fibre

Explains why you should be eating more fibre


It ’s widely known for ‘keeping you regular’, but fibre rarely gets the recognition it deserves. Shockingly, the Government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows UK adults consume 27 per cent less fibre than recommended, yet there’s good evidence it helps lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Fibre is all the parts of a plant food you can’t digest and, unlike other food components, it passes through your body relatively intact. Insoluble fibre (in wholegrains, nuts and potatoes) increases the bulk and weight of stools, while soluble fibre (oats, beans and peas) is less bulky but swells to form a useful gel-like substance in the gut.

Both types can ease constipation (insoluble fibre is more effective), but soluble fibre has added benefits, including maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and boosting levels of friendly bacteria in the gut. Due to its viscous nature, soluble fibre also slows sugar absorption, thereby improving and stabilising blood glucose levels, which may reduce diabetes risk and curb appetite. Fibre is particularly useful as a weight- maintenance tool as it needs more chewing, making a meal last longer.

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It also tends to make food less ‘energy dens with fewer calories in a given volume. Iwouldn’t advise sprinkling lots of bran over your food, however, as excessive amounts of this concentrated source of insoluble fibre can interfere with the absorption of important minerals, such as iron and zinc. Achieving an optimum fibre intake will also lower your risk of diverticular disease and colorectal cancer. One theory suggests a fibre-rich diet could even benefit your hormone balance, too. Fibre, particularly the insoluble type, binds to excess oestrogen (linked with some breast cancers) after it’s been processed by the liver and passed into the intestine, encouraging its excretion from your body. So how much fibre do you need to get the benefits? The guideline daily amount (GDA) is 24g. Don’t worry about poring over food labels too much, though.

You’ll be getting plenty of the right types of fibre in a healthy ratio – experts suggest around 60 per cent insoluble to 40 per soluble – if you eat your five-a-day, choose wholegrain versions of your usual carbs (rice and bread), have a handful of nuts daily and a portion of oats or beans every day. One word of caution – if you have irritable bowel syndrome, you may not be able to tolerate much insoluble fibre, so focus more on eating manageable amounts of the soluble sort. Equally, very large or sudden leaps in soluble fibre intake can cause wind, so increase your intake slowly if you’re switching to a healthier diet. Here’s a more comprehensive list of the fibre found in common foods.

Explains why you should be eating more fibre

Rich in soluble fibre: Oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, pearl barley.

Rich in insoluble fibre: Wholemeal and pumpernickel breads, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, nuts, beans, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes.

H&F’s Siân Lewis is studying to be a nutrition and weight management advisor with Future Fit Training (futurefit.co.uk).

‘Water is essential for life. It makes up 50-75 per cent of our body weight and plays a vital role in all body processes. It transports oxygen from our blood cells and carries nutrients in the blood. It also helps to regulate body temperature, lubricates joints and organs and removes waste from the body, so don’t skimp on it. While the water content of food can be anywhere between 10 and 98 per cent, it’s important you drink 1.5-2 litres of water, either bottled or tap, every day. If you’re a keen exerciser, you should add on 1ml of water for every calorie you burn working out. For example, if you burn 500 calories during a Spinning class, you should aim to drink an extra 500ml of water –that’s 2-2.5 litres of water in total during the day.’

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