Gentle Nutrition: Fibre

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate and is mainly found in plant sources. Unlike the other types of carbohydrate (sugar and starch), fibre is not digested in our small intestine. It is fermented in the large intestine (colon). It plays a huge role in our gut health, bowel movements, and fibre is a very hot topic in the media as it’s linked to numerous benefits

There are two types of fibre:

> Soluble (‘soft’) fibre- which is found in the skins of fruit and vegetables as well as rice and oats.

> Insoluble (‘hard’) fibre -which are found again in the skins of fruit and vegetables but also in legumes and high fibre breads and cereals.

Fibre helps keep our digestive system healthy and prevents constipation. Having foods high in fibre may improve digestion and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) and type 2 diabetes (2). It is recommended for adults aged 16+ to consume between 25-30g of fibre per day (1,2). Only 1 in 10 of the UK population get enough fibre daily (2).

So where do we find foods high in fibre?

We can get fibre through fruit and vegetables, ideally with the skin on; Whole grain starchy carbohydrates like breads and pasta; breakfast cereals that contain bran e.g. Weetabix, oats, shredded wheat; Pulses (beans and lentils) and Nuts & seeds.

Here are a few tips on how to increase your fibre intake?

  • Choose a high fibre breakfast cereal e.g. porridge, bran flakes, Weetabix

  • Add fruit to your breakfast cereal

  • Choose wholemeal or seeded whole grain breads

  • Instead of white rice, choose wholegrain pasta, brown rice or bulger wheat

  • Include plenty of vegetables perfectible with the skin on e.g. a jacket potato or potato wedges with the skin on

  • Bulk out meals and add pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas) into stews and curries

  • Add some seeds (linseed, chia, or sunflower seeds) into yoghurt

It's important to remember that these are a few options you can try to increase your fibre intake. Both brown rice and white rice are perfectly fine to eat. White rice shouldn’t be defined as a ‘white carb’ and a ‘bad’ food because there is no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods; all foods are good foods. Brown rice does have a higher protein, carbohydrate and fibre content than white rice but it's ok to have white rice if that’s what you prefer. You can look to add in other higher fibre foods. Not all grains have to be wholegrain.

Examples of some high fibre snack options would be to have some fresh fruit as dessert or having a fruit smoothie, oatcakes, veggie sticks with some hummus or snacking on a handful of nuts (e.g. almond nuts) which can have up to 3g of fibre.

Not every snack needs to be perfect. Remember you can eat whatever you like for a snack; there’s a lot of talk online about “healthy snacking”, but it’s most important to listen to your body and do what’s best for you... If you enjoy the snack options mentioned above, you can try using a snacking combo which involves protein + carbs + fats and see how it makes you feel:

Ask yourself;

‘Do I feel less hungry before dinner?’

‘Can I enjoy the foods I am going to eat for dinner?’

‘Will I be present and mindful when I am eating?’

A daily intake of 25-30g of fibre can be achieved easily if you include these high fibre foods as part of your main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and snacks throughout the day (1,2).

If you want to start increasing your fibre intake, it is important to do so gradually and to drink lots of fluids. A sudden increase from a low fibre diet to a high fibre diet can cause some abdominal pain /discomfort and flatulence. It is also best to add fibre to the diet from food sources instead of a supplement.

Sometimes, it is hard to know how much fibre is in a food product or knowing if a food product has a high fibre content. A good indication is looking at the food label* of the product. If you see 6g of fibre /100g then there is a high amount of fibre in that particular food product. Anything below 6g would indicate that it has a lower fibre content in it.

To give you an idea:

2 Weetabix contains around 3g of fibre

An apple 4 g of fibre

A half a cup of rolled oats 9g of fibre

Two carrots 6g of fibre

* If you’re recovering from disordered eating or dieting, looking at food labels is probably not going to be helpful. If possible, try having a one-off session with a non-diet nutritionist or dietitian who can talk you through high-fibre foods without you needing to turn to google. Or be actively trying to not look at other nutrition numbers on labels: look straight to the bottom of the nutrient label and avoid the top rows (which you probably know are calories, and fats).

Big thanks to Aiveen Connolly for this piece (@aiveen_nutrition on Instagram)