What are the benefits of fibre in the diet?
In recent years, plant-based diets have increased in popularity. Aside from calls to protect the planet and support animal welfare, more people are choosing plant-forward eating because of its extraordinary health offerings.
At the heart of any well-balanced plant-based diet is fibre-rich food. And fibre, crucially, is what makes plant foods so incredibly nutrient-dense.
Here, we take a closer look at why fibre in the diet is important for good health.
What is fibre?
Often referred to as ‘roughage’, fibre is the indigestible component of plant foods. Unlike protein, fat, or carbohydrates, your body can’t break down and absorb fibre. Instead, it makes its way through your stomach, small intestine, colon, and out of your body.
What are the three types of fibre?
Soluble fibre absorbs water in the gut to form a gel-like substance. Largely found in oats, beans, apples, carrots, and citrus fruits, soluble fibre is widely believed to help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Insoluble fibre isn’t soluble in water. It passes through the digestive system remaining relatively intact. Insoluble fibre mainly acts as a bulking agent, supporting the reduction of constipation or irregular bowel movements. Beans, nuts, and whole-wheat flour contain the highest concentrations of insoluble fibre.
Prebiotic fibre can’t be digested but travels down the gut, where it feeds the good bacteria. Fructo-Oligosaccharides from chicory root is an excellent source of prebiotic fibre.
Why do we need fibre?
Fibre-rich food is a workhorse for your health; it supports weight management, regulates bowel movements, lowers cholesterol levels, improves overall gut health, and helps blood sugar management. Put simply, eating enough fibre is vital for your wellbeing and longevity.
How much fibre do I need a day?
In the UK, the recommended daily intake is 30 grams of fibre. But most people only consume 17-20 grams a day.
Which foods are high in fibre?
The main components of a plant-based diet – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds – are all fibre-rich foods. Dairy products, eggs, meat, and canned fish, on the other hand, are examples of low fibre foods.
For optimal health, you should aim to eat a variety of fibre-rich foods every day.
How does fibre lower cholesterol?
Eating more dietary fibre is one of the best ways to support your cardiovascular system and lower cholesterol. Soluble fibre – especially that found in oats (beta glucans) and barley – forms a gel in the gut that binds to non-HDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and stops it from being absorbed in the body.
Effects of a high fibre diet
Although most people fall short in their fibre intake, you can indeed eat too much fibre. Consuming fibre in excess may lead to uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as:
Can fibre cause bloating and gas?
Increasing the amount of fibre you eat too quickly can often cause bloating and gas. It’s generally recommended to up your fibre intake gradually, which should give your body time to adjust. Drinking plenty of water will also help move fibre along your digestive system.
Does fibre affect women’s hormone levels?
Since fibre helps excrete oestrogen, it may have a balancing effect on hormone levels, especially in women who experience oestrogen dominance, which has been linked to a range of physical and emotional symptoms.
Is a high fibre diet good for pregnancy?
Following a high fibre diet is often advised for pregnancy since it aids regularity, reduces constipation, and supports weight management.
Find out more about fibre
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- Fibre. (2021). https://www.heartuk.org.uk/low-cholesterol-foods/fibre
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Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.