Fibre is vital for keeping your gut in good working order, but its benefits extend beyond filling your belly. High-fibre foods are associated with a reduced risk of major health concerns including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Hitting your daily fibre goals can also help with weight management and could even help you live longer.
Also known as 'roughage', fibre can be found in a huge array of everyday foods, particularly wholemeal bread, fruit, vegetables and pulses, and yet most Brits still don't get enough. The average intake is 17g per day for women and 20g for men – well below the 30g recommended by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.
We spoke to Dr Sally Norton, NHS weight loss and health consultant surgeon and Nehal Keshwala, senior specialist dietitian at The Princess Grace Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, about why we need fibre, what health benefits it brings, and how to incorporate more high-fibre foods into your diet:
What is fibre?
Fibre is a term used to describe a group of complex carbohydrates found in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, pulses and grains. Unlike other types of carbohydrates, which are broken down by digestive enzymes to provide fuel in the form of glucose, fibre mostly can't be digested. There are various types of fibre, and each has a unique benefit:
🍏 Soluble fibre
Soluble fibre blends with water in the gut, dissolving into a gel-like substance that ensures food particles are absorbed slowly, helping to keep blood sugar levels stable and cholesterol low. It's found in foods like oats and barley, beans and peas, whole grains, nuts and seeds and fruit and vegetables.
🍏 Insoluble fibre
While insoluble fibre remains largely intact, it absorbs water, providing bulk and moisture to stools. This has a natural laxative effect, reducing symptoms of constipation and improving bowel health. Insoluble fibre is found in whole grain wheat, corn (including popcorn), oats and oat bran, nuts, fruit and vegetables – especially the skins.
🍏 Fermentable fibre
Fermentable (or prebiotic) fibre acts as fuel for friendly gut bacteria, causing them to proliferate. During this process, they produce short chain fatty acids, research shows, which play an important role in health and fighting disease. While most fermentable fibres are soluble, some insoluble fibres also function in this way.
Why do we need fibre in our diet?
There are impressive health benefits associated with eating a minimum of 25g fibre each day, according to research published in The Lancet. For every additional 8g of high fibre foods you consume, your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and death from all causes decreases by up to 27 per cent, and protection against stroke and breast cancer increases.
While consuming between 25g and 29g of fibre each day was 'adequate', the data suggests that high-fibre foods could provide even greater protection. Even though Brits are recommended to consume 30g per day, only nine per cent of UK adults manage to reach this target. If that's you, here are six more reasons to up your fibre intake:
✔️ Fibre protects bowel health
Regularly consuming high-fibre foods has protective effects against certain types of gastrointestinal cancer, including bowel cancer. A diet that's low in fibre increases your risk of developing haemorrhoids and diverticular disease.
✔️ Fibre keeps your bowels regular
Fibre bulks up your stool, moves it along your digestive tract, and makes it soft, so it's easier to pass – decreasing the likelihood of constipation. If you have loose, watery poop, eating more fibre may help to fill it out, because it absorbs water.
✔️ Fibre support heart health
Soluble fibre reduces levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, studies have shown. more generally, high-fibre foods lower your risk of heart disease 'by improving blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure,' says Keshwala, as well as helping maintain a healthy weight.
✔️ Fibre stabilises blood sugar levels
Fibre slows the rate that sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, explains Keshwala. 'This prevents blood glucose levels from rising too fast, helping us to feel fuller for longer,' she says. When your blood sugar peaks and troughs rapidly, it can leave you feeling hungry and lethargic.
✔️ Fibre helps you maintain a healthy weight
High-fibre foods are also often high in volume and lower in calories, sugar, and fat, 'Fibre is not easily digestible, which can help to create feelings of fullness after a meal, satisfying hunger without boosting blood sugar levels or adding calories,' says Keshwala.
✔️ High-fibre foods contain beneficial nutrients
From the vitamin C content of raspberries to the nitrates in beets, high-fibre foods are often loaded with healthful compounds. 'Foods rich in fibre are often nutrient-dense, containing vitamins and antioxidants that are also beneficial for our overall health,' says Keshwala.
23 high-fibre foods to add to your diet
Increasing your fibre intake is simple: you just need to add more high-fibre foods to your diet. It's important to fill up fibre from different sources – even though every item on this list is nutritious, eating a variety of foods is essential for a healthy balanced diet. Scroll on for 23 nutrient-packed options that'll contribute towards your daily requirements.
But before you get started, if your diet is seriously low in fibre it's best to integrate new foods gradually so your gut can adjust. 'Excessive fibre consumption can cause constipation, gas and digestive distress,' says Keshwala. 'To prevent constipation, any increase in dietary fibre should be done gradually and accompanied by an increase in fluid intake.'
1. Chia seeds
Sprinkling these super-nutritious seeds into your porridge, smoothie or yoghurt is an easy way to add a potent dose of gut-filling high-fibre to your day. Every 30g portion – around two tablespoons' worth – contains 10g fibre, plus 15 per cent of your iron and calcium needs.
2. Kidney beans
No chilli would be complete without kidney beans. They're slightly lower in fat than other varieties of bean, but with comparable amounts of fibre and protein – with 12g and 13g respectively in every 40g portion.
3. Green peas
While commonly sold and consumed as a vegetable, green peas are actually a legume – and they have the nutrient content to prove it. Not only does each 100g portion contain a whopping 22g of high-fibre (and 23g protein), but it comes loaded with polyphenol antioxidants.
4. Rye crackers
Rye crackers can make a delicious and filling low-calorie snack. While the content varies between brands, your average 30g portion contains around 6g fibre – plus one third of your daily manganese needs; an essential mineral that contributes to many bodily functions.
Snacking on this mild, sweet fruit is an easy way to up your daily intake. Your average medium pear contains 5.6g of fibre, 16 per cent of your copper needs – essential for the formation of red blood cells – and a solid dose of polyphenols and flavonoids in the skin.
You might know the avo as a high-fat fruit, but did you know it's loaded with fibre too? There's around 10g in each average-sized 150g avocado, plus a potent ratio of B vitamins, which support your metabolism by helping your body convert food into energy.
7. Flax seeds
As a rare plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, and containing cancer-fighting phytochemicals called lignans, flax seeds are incredibly healthful. They contain 8.2g fibre in every 30g portion, so it's worth adding a few tablespoons to your morning cereal.
Not only are raspberries wrapped up in beneficial antioxidants called anthocyanins – which have proven anti-diabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-obesity effects – but they contain a whopping 6.5g of high-fibre per 100g serve.
A bowl of oats is one of the healthiest ways to start the day. Every 40g serving contains 40g fibre – mostly beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre. They're also rich in avenanthramides, a unique group of antioxidants found almost solely in oats, which can lower blood pressure.
10. Goji berries
This brightly-coloured berry is a solid source of high-fibre, with 4g in every 30g portion. They're an incredibly rich source of vitamin A, an antioxidant, containing 161 per cent of your daily needs in the same serve. Vitamin A is key for good vision and a healthy immune system.
Artichokes rank among the most antioxidant-rich of all vegetables, even though they're technically a thistle. Scoffing 100g of artichokes will supply 5.7g of fibre, plus around 12 per cent of your vitamin K needs – which plays an essential role in blood clotting and bone metabolism.
Not just a tasty and convenient snack, almonds contribute towards your daily high-fibre needs, packing around 4g in every 30g serving. They're among the world’s best sources of vitamin E, providing 34 per cent of your daily needs in the same-sized portion.
Nutritionally bananas are best known for their potassium content, but they have way more to offer. Every banana contains 3.3g of fibre, plus 36 per cent of your vitamin B6 needs. This vitamin plays an important role in mood regulation, because it's essential for creating neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
This popular root veggie contains a little bit of almost every vitamin and mineral your body needs. It also happens to be a worthy source of high-fibre, with 4.2g per 150g serving. Beets also contain a high concentration of nitrates, which help keep your blood pressure in check.
Baked potatoes are a rich source of fibre, with around 4.2g in your average 170g potato. They're loaded with resistant starches – starch molecules that resist digestion, like fibre –which feed the bacteria in your gut. You can increase the resistant starch content of potatoes by storing them in the fridge overnight and eating them cold.
With 4g of fibre in every 150g serve, broccoli deserves a place on your plate. Like other cruciferous veggies, it's rich in bioactive compounds that reduce inflammation. Broccoli is also loaded with vitamin C, containing 150 per cent of your daily intake in the same serve.
17. Sun-dried tomatoes
While there's no beating the juicy crunch of a sweet red tomato, their sun-dried sisters make for an equally nutritious bite. Each 100g serving contains 12g high-fibre, 14g protein, 50 per cent of your daily iron needs, 73 per cent of your potassium requirements, 48 per cent of your magnesium guideline, and 158 per cent of your copper intake.
Not only are they an inexpensive way of adding a wide range of nutrients to your diet, but lentils pack an impressive 5.3g of fibre into each 50g serving. Certain polyphenols in lentils, such as procyanidin and flavanols, are known to have strong brain-protecting effects.
Since it's one of just a few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, quinoa has become a kitchen staple in recent years, especially among vegans and vegetarians. It's a prime source of high-fibre too, with 4.2g in every 150g serve.
20. Bran flakes
Each 40g bowl of this brekkie staple contains 5.7g of fibre, plus a little of every single mineral your body needs to function. Just make sure it has 100 percent whole wheat listed as the first ingredient on the label, and watch out for added sugar and salt.
This crunchy green and red fruit contains 4.8g of fibre (per average-sized apple) – mostly the soluble fibre pectin, which is also a prebiotic. As such, it doesn't just feed the 'good' bacteria in your gut, but also helps to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.
22. Butternut squash
Containing 2g of fibre per 100g portion, serving butternut squash at dinner can bump up your high-fibre tally. It's especially high in carotenoids – including beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and alpha-carotene – which are turned into vitamin A in the body.
Despite being intensely sweet, dates score surprisingly low on the glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating foods. This is because of their impressive fibre content – each 50g serving of dates contains 4g of filling fibre.
Last updated: 11-03-2021
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