Fibre should be an important part of any balanced, healthy diet, but many of us don't eat anywhere near enough of it.
Fibre is so important to us as it can help manage our appetite by keeping us feeling full, while it is also useful for our digestive system. Indeed, those of us who eat plenty of fibre will see a reduction in our chances of developing bowel cancer.1 There are many reasons why we don't eat enough fibre, although a key issue is the high level of industrial processing that carbohydrate foods are subjected to.
Fibre is an indigestible carbohydrate found in plant-based foods, and as our bodies don't absorb it, it can help us to stay feeling satisfied for a long period of time after eating.
How fibre works
As fibre passes with other food through our bodies, it will largely be unchanged by the time it arrives in our large intestine.
There are two different forms of fibre, and while both are good for the body, both have different uses.
Soluble fibre helps move waste through the body, and at the same time it can help reduce the cholesterol in our blood stream. It can also slow down the speed of our digestion and the release of blood sugar into our bloodstream, which can help boost our energy levels.
Great sources of soluble fibre include oats, barley, beans, lentils, peas, strawberries and other berries, okra, aubergines, citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits, pears, apples, plums and cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and turnips.
Insoluble fibre on the other hand helps to produce healthy bacteria in our bodies, which softens our waste and increases the bulk of it, which makes it easier for it to pass through our intestines. This reduces the risk of constipation, and can also help avoid IBS and even bowel cancer.
Common foods high in insoluble fibre include unrefined whole grains (especially wholegrain bread and cereals and wholemeal pasta and rice), fruit and vegetable skins, (think apples, grapes, plums, cucumbers, peas, beans, corn etc) and vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, onions and bell peppers.
Tips for increasing the fibre in your diet
One of the best things you can do to eat more fibre is to keep your cupboards stocked up with wholegrain products, especially pasta, brown rice, wholewheat crackers and seeded bread. You should plan your meals in advance if you can, starting with a high-fibre cereal such as muesli, which offers a combination of soluble and insoluble fibre. Porridge is a good option too, and if you add fruit to the top of either of them, your fibre intake will increase even further.
Ensuring you get your five-a-day will also help. Fruit and vegetables contain most fibre before they have been cooked, so eating some of them raw will be even more beneficial. If you fancy a snack, try eating dried nuts, raisins, or wholemeal biscuits.
You can also use lentils, barley and brown rice when making stew, casseroles and soups, while adding mixed beans to a salad will also provide a big fibre boost. When increasing your fibre intake, you should look to do so gradually to ensure you don't suffer from bloating or stomach cramps. You'll also help your digestion if you drink six to eight glasses of water a day.