Why fibre in your diet is essential
By: Shona Wilkinson
Often overlooked and underappreciated, fibre or roughage, is an 'unsung hero' of the nutrient world and a key part of your diet. This invisible nutrient is a complex carbohydrate in plant-based foods. Unlike other carbohydrates, human digestive enzymes cannot break down fibre. Instead, it passes through the digestive system largely intact, providing numerous health benefits, from healthy digestion to a healthy heart.
The benefits of fibre
Fibre plays several essential roles in maintaining good health:
- It aids in digestion by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. You may be interested in reading 'What does your poo say about your health?'.
- Fibre can help regulate blood sugar levels, which is particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes.
- Fibre contributes to heart health by reducing cholesterol levels and lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Discover 5 cholesterol myths busted.
It also supports weight management by providing a feeling of fullness, which can help control overeating.
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Types of fibre
There are two primary types of dietary fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. It can help lower cholesterol levels and stabilise blood sugar. Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, adds bulk to stool and helps prevent constipation by promoting regular bowel movements. Both types are essential for a balanced diet and overall wellbeing.
Good fibre vs. bad fibre
When it comes to fibre, quality matters just as much as quantity. Good sources of fibre include wholegrains (including oats, brown rice and whole wheat), legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas), fruits (especially those with skins), vegetables and nuts. These foods offer a mix of soluble and insoluble fibre, ensuring various health benefits.
Conversely, 'bad' fibre refers to processed foods fortified with synthetic fibres. While these may contribute to fibre intake, they lack the natural nutrients and health benefits of whole, unprocessed foods.
Recommended daily intake
The recommended fibre intake varies, but adults should generally aim for around 25 to 38 grams per day. However, surveys suggest that many people fall short of this target. Some may mistakenly believe they consume enough fibre, but their diets may lack diversity, focusing heavily on processed foods.
The recommended daily fibre intake is generally the same for both men and women. However, age, activity level and specific health goals can influence individual needs. Pregnant or lactating women may require slightly more fibre to support their nutritional needs during these periods.
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Boosting your fibre intake
- Choose wholegrain bread instead of refined white bread.
- Swap white rice for brown rice.
- Snack on fresh fruits or vegetables.
- Incorporate legumes, including beans and lentils, into your meals.
Top tips to keep in mind
- Gradually increase your fibre intake to allow your digestive system to adjust.
- Drink plenty of water to help fibre move through your digestive tract effectively.
- Read food labels to identify high-fibre options and choose foods with minimal added sugars. Watch out for 'plant-based sweeteners' that can be 200-350x sweeter than sugar.
- Focus on consuming 7-9 portions of vegetables and fruit per day.
- Incorporate beans and lentils into your daily diet.
Dietary fibre is a vital component of a healthy diet, with numerous benefits for digestion, heart health and weight management. Incorporating a diverse range of fibre-rich foods into your meals can significantly impact your overall wellbeing. So, make a conscious effort to include more wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts in your diet to ensure you're reaping the rewards of this essential nutrient.
High-Fibre plant-based meal plan for a day
If you're looking to incorporate more fibre into your meals, here are some quick and easy meal ideas that are high in fibre.
It's important to note that these are all approximates of how much fibre is in each food and can be dependent on the serving size.
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