People in the UK have no time for fibre. According to the NHS, the average consumption is 14g a day, when 30g is the recommended amount. Fortunately, once you start looking out for it, it’s not a tricky requirement to meet.
Why do we need fibre?
Getting enough fibre can reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, as well as helping control your weight and ensuring you stay, ahem, regular. Fibre aids digestion by absorbing water as it passes through your bowel and therefore increasing the bulk of your waste products. It also sustains the bacteria in your gut, creating a well-fed colony that can help everything from your immune system to the functioning of your organs. Fibre is also a welcome ally in the fight against weight gain through the magic of satiety: broadly speaking, this means it makes you feel fuller for longer, but without adding many calories.
Although there are fibre supplements available, they can’t compete with food when it comes to fibre because it’s not a single nutrient, as we learned when we spoke to Dr Megan Rossi about gut health. The dietitian and author of new book Eat Yourself Healthy explained there are nearly 100 different types of fibre split across six food groups: vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
“Each category has got slightly differently-structured fibre that feeds different bacteria,” says Rossi. “If we want good gut health, we have to have a very diverse range of bacteria in our gut, and we achieve that simply by feeding our bacteria a diverse range of food.”
It’s important to get fibre from a range of foods, then, and different types of fibre are actually linked with different positive health outcomes. For example, studies have found that eating fibre from wholegrains reduces the risk of breast and colon cancer, while fibre from fruit and vegetables didn’t seem to have the same benefit. So don’t just pick a couple of foods from the list below and stick with them for all your fibre needs – take yourself on a voyage of fibrous discovery.
Dietary fibre is only found in plant-based foods like vegetables, nuts, fruit and grains. Good sources of insoluble fibre include wholegrain bread, bran and other cereals and nuts. For soluble fibre, eat oats, fruit and root vegetables.
If you’re not already a fibre fan be careful to increase the amount in your diet gradually. Going from fibre zero to fibre hero too quickly can cause stomach cramps and bloating.
Wholegrain and wholemeal foods
If your current diet contains a lot of bread and pasta then going wholemeal is an excellent starting point if you’re looking to improve it health-wise. Not only will the increased level of fibre aid digestion, fat loss and internal gut health, but there will likely be a drop-off in calories too. On average, wholemeal foods also contain more protein which will help maintain muscle mass.
It may be fashionable, but it’s worth the hype. With around 6g of fibre per serving, quinoa makes an ideal addition to any considered nutrition plan. What sets this seed apart is that in that single serving, you’ll also find an impressive 8g of protein and a complete amino acid profile.
Given their tiny size, you would be forgiven for not recognising just how important chia seeds can be to your diet. In just 30g you will find over 10g of fibre. It’s also easy to incorporate them into your diet – simply sprinkle and mix in with cereals, yogurts and salads.
Mushrooms are full of chitin, a type of water-insoluble dietary fibre that makes up the cell walls of all fungi. Insoluble fibre is not metabolically active so it doesn’t contain calories, but it does add bulk to meals. Add mushrooms to stews, sauces and omelettes to stay feeling full.
All nuts are high in water-soluble dietary fibre, which is dissolved and fermented in the colon. Of all nuts almonds have the most fibre per 100g, so snack on them when hunger strikes to avoid the temptation of sweet snacks. You’ll also get a whack of vitamins B and E.
Beans, pulses and other crops in the legume family are low in calories but high in soluble fibre and decent amounts of protein – 100g of chickpeas contains around 7g – as well as other essential vitamins and minerals. Use them to bulk out soups, sauces and other main meals.
Most varieties of root vegetables are high in soluble fibre, while their skins are full of insoluble fibre, especially sweet potatoes. Cover chopped root veg and peppers in olive oil and roast in the oven for a low-calorie, nutrient-dense side for steak and other protein choices.
All potatoes offer a fair chunk of fibre, but your best bet is a sizeable jacket potato with the skin left on. A baked potato brings in 2.6g of fibre per 100g. With an average jacket potato generally weighing around 180-200g, you’ll be cramming in 5g of fibre before you even take into account fillings.
These tiny, green balls of fun have been confined to Christmas dinners for too long, especially when you consider the boatload of fibre they bring to the table. A 100g serving of sprouts counts for just over 4g of fibre.
The perfect snack for fibre-hunters, just don’t go nuts and eat the whole pack, as there’s plenty of sugar in dried apricots too. A 30g serving contains a solid 1.9g of fibre, which will tide you over nicely until your next meal.
Just 50g of oats contains 4.3g of fibre so make every effort to insert oats somewhere into your daily routine. Whether that’s porridge or muesli for breakfast, or a flapjack snack. Or just chuck them in a curry. Will that work? Who can say until you’ve tried it?
Long-standing favourite of the fibre fan club, bran for breakfast is the surefire way to get your day off to the ideal start. A bowl of All-Bran contains 10g of fibre, an impressive third of your 30g per day target. Add in some raisins for extra fibre and, more importantly, for some flavour.
It might take a fair bit longer to cook, but brown rice brings in around double the fibre of white rice, notching 2g per 100g, so it’s worth making the switch.
Here’s an old joke that will get fibre fans chuckling every time: “What’s the definition of a pessimist? Someone who puts prunes on their All Bran.” If the punchline doesn’t make immediate sense to you, don’t worry – you’ll catch on in the cubicle. An excellent fibre-filled snack, 30g of prunes will net you 1.7g of the stuff.
As well as counting towards your five-a-day – unlike regular spuds – sweet potatoes pack in 2.4g of fibre per 100g. A large sweet potato usually weighs around 150g, so that’s 3.6g of fibre sorted.
Thanks to its high chickpea content the king of dips is bursting at the seams with fibre. A quarter of a 200g pot contains 2.4g, so when you consider that all normal people compulsively eat an entire tub in one sitting, that’s almost 10g of fibre! A load of fat too, sure (even if most of it’s the “good”, unsaturated kind), but think of the fibre.
A cheap, convenient and tasty option to fill your cupboards with in case of a fibre crisis. Half a 325g can of sweetcorn contains 3.3g of fibre. For a double hit of fibre, chuck some sweetcorn in with your brown rice when you cook it.
High-Fibre Meal Plan
Breakfast – All-Bran
A bowl of All-Bran brings in 10g of fibre, you’re already a third of the way there. Another option is a brace of Weetabix biscuits, which will give you 4g.
Lunch – Baked potato with beans
A fibre hurricane. The potato (with skin) counts for 5g, while half a can of baked beans is 7.4g. If you opt for sandwiches, two wholemeal slices add 3.5g.
Snack – Popcorn
Popcorn is a great source of fibre, clocking in at around 9g of the stuff per 100g, while a small bag of almonds will contribute 2g to your total, the same as one apple (with skin).
Dinner – Pasta with vegetable sauce
Each serving of whole-wheat pasta logs over 5g. Make your sauce veg-heavy: carrots will bring in 4-5g per cooked serving, as will broccoli.