Not sure how much fibre you should be eating? The guidelines say we should have 18 grams a day, but the last figures* showed that, on average, men had 14.8g of fibre a day, while women only averaged 12.8g a day.
If you aren’t eating enough fibre, your health suffers. It’s important in helping to prevent constipation, diverticular disease and haemorrhoids – problems we’d all like to avoid.
Not only is fibre important for the health of your bowel, it can be good for your heart too. Studies have shown that eating plenty of fruits and grains – especially oats – can reduce your levels of LDL - low-density lipoprotein. This is called the ‘bad’ cholesterol, because it helps make the plaque deposits that line your arteries and can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
Find out more about cholesterol
Fibre in your diet can help in managing diabetes, as it helps to slow the rise in blood sugars after we eat. Foods that are rich in fibre also lower your risk of being over weight. This is because they can help you feel full, so you eat less.
How fibre helps your bowels
There are two types of fibre. It’s important to have both – soluble and insoluble – in your diet. “Soluble fibre is really helpful for controlling sugar and fat levels in your blood,” says Dalhia Campbell, dietitian and media spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
Good sources of soluble fibre include:
We can’t digest insoluble fibre, but it still plays an important part in bowel health. “You find this kind of fibre in wholegrains, such as wholemeal bread, bran flakes, and the outer skins of vegetables and fruits,” says Dalhia Campbell. “Because insoluble fibre isn’t broken down it helps things move more quickly through the bowels.”
“Make sure you drink plenty of water and other fluids, especially if you’re increasing the amount of fibre you’re eating,” says Dalhia Campbell. “This will help to keep the content of your bowel moist and soft, and moving along easily.”
Find out how much water you need to drink
If you do decide to eat more fibre, increase the amounts slowly. Suddenly eating a lot more could make you feel quite uncomfortable.
Fibre in food
Not sure how much of each food you should eat to increase your fibre intake? Here are some everyday foods, with their fibre content, to help you get your 18g a day.
- 200g canned baked beans in sauce contains 7.4g of fibre
- 100g of wholemeal bread contains 5.0g of fibre
- 100g of cooked peas contains 4.5g of fibre
- 100g of cooked wholemeal spaghetti contains 3.5g of fibre
- ½ small avocado contains 3.4g of fibre
- 85g of broccoli contains 2.0g of fibre
- 100g of raisins contains 2.0g of fibre
- 100g of cooked red lentils contains 1.9g of fibre
- 100g of banana contains 1.1g of fibre
- One medium pear (170g), including skin contains 3.7g of fibre
- One medium orange (160g) contains 2.7g of fibre
- 100g of white bread contains 1.9g of fibre
- 100g of baked potato contains 1.4g of fibre
- 100g of cooked sweetcorn contains 1.4g of fibre
Take care with fibre if you have one of these conditions
If you have a condition that affects your digestive system, ask your GP before you make any changes to your diet. If you have diverticulitis, for instance, you may already be on a diet that includes plenty of fibre. “You need to be careful with foods like seeded bread,” explains Dalhia Campbell. “The seeds can get caught in the pockets in your bowel caused by diverticulitis, and can be painful.”
“With diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, and similar conditions, if you’re in an acute phase, and finding it quite painful, sometimes your bowel needs time to rest,” says Dahlia Campbell. “In these situations a low-fibre diet might be a good idea for a while.” Never make changes to your diet without talking to your doctor, dietitian or gastroenterologist first.
*(From the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2008/9-2010/11)