Sarah Says

Dr. Sarah Jarvis' health & wellness blog on Patient.co.uk

Fibre – the hidden weapon for our health

It’s hard not to know that eating fibre keeps you regular. But did you know that fibre really is the original ‘superfood’? Amazingly, Hippocrates – the ‘father of medicine’ – first recommended eating whole wheat as a way of keeping the bowels healthy almost 2,500 years ago. But the benefits of fibre extend way beyond your bowels.

Fibre – what is it?

There are actually two main kinds of fibre. One is ‘insoluble’ fibre or roughage, and is found in bran, cereals, wholegrain and wholemeal foods. Insoluble fibre absorbs up to fifteen times its own weight in water. This helps to prevent constipation, but also helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer, so aiding weight loss. ‘Soluble’ fibre is mainly found in oats, rye, lentils, beans and vegetables. It acts like a gel, which also helps you to feel full for longer. It keeps control of your blood sugar and lowers your cholesterol too.

Fibre – how much, how often

We should be eating 25 g of fibre every day, yet the average intake in the UK is only half that much. 8 out of 10 of us – 7 out of 10 men and almost 9 out of 10 women - don’t get enough fibre in our diets.

Starting the day with a high-fibre breakfast, like a high-fibre cereal or wholemeal toast, can help in all sorts of ways. You’re less likely to get a dip in blood sugar and energy levels midmorning; you’re less likely to feel hungry before lunch and give in to that sugary, high-fat snack; and it can improve your concentration levels.

Increasing your intake of fibre suddenly can increase wind and sometimes tummy bloating, especially if you’re eating a lot of pulses and beans. But if you build up your fibre gradually you can keep the side-effects to a minimum but still get the benefits.

Fascinating fibre facts

  • Eating a high-fibre diet could cut your risk of developing diabetes by up to a third.
  • People who started eating a high-fibre diet reported a 10% increase in energy levels within just two weeks.
  • For every 10 g of fibre you eat every day, your risk of heart disease drops by 14%.
  • Doubling your fibre intake from 13 g a day (the average in Britain) to 25 g a day could cut your risk of bowel cancer by 40%.
  • Increasing the fibre in your diet can help you to lose weight. In the longer term, sticking to a higher-fibre diet can help to keep the weight off

How do I put more fibre into my diet?

Once you know how, it’s easy to swap some of your regular foods for higher-fibre alternatives. Lots of foods now come with labels, which list how much fat, sugar, salt, etc they contain. Look for the amount of fibre in every 100 g: a food with more than 6 g fibre in every 100 g is a high-fibre food, and a food with at least 3 g fibre in every 100 g is a reasonable source of fibre.

The Food Standards Agency recommends that one of the most effective ways of increasing your fibre is to eat more fibre-rich starchy foods, like high-fibre breakfast cereals. Almost half our fibre comes from cereal-based products.

Easy changes include:

  • Swap white bread for wholemeal.
  • Choose brown rice and wholewheat pasta instead of white – it takes a little longer to cook, but it tastes even better!
  • Swap baked potatoes for chips or new potatoes - but don’t forget to eat the skins!
  • For a sweet treat, try a bran muffin or oaty flapjack – preferably with added dried fruit.
  • Add butter beans, kidney beans or lentils to casseroles.
  • Baked beans on wholemeal toast is a cheap, tasty high-fibre meal.
Posted by Dr Sarah Jarvis
Dr Sarah is unable to provide medical advice or respond directly to questions concerning your health. If you have health concerns we recommend contacting your GP.