Why is fibre important? Nutritionist Jo Lewin explains how upping your intake can have a positive impact on health and offers up invaluable tips and the best high-fibre recipes to ensure you're getting your daily dose.
Including enough fibre in our diets is primarily essential for healthy bowel function, but studies have also found that getting your recommended daily allowance (RDA) can reduce the risks of certain health issues such as cancers, coronary heart disease and obesity.
The RDA of fibre is between 18g and 30g a day, depending on your age and gender. Foods that contain 6g fibre or more per 100g are considered to be high fibre foods, while those containing at least 3g of fibre or more per 100g are considered to be a source of fibre.
...The father of the fibre hypothesis: Dr Denis Burkitt
Dr Denis Burkitt was the first researcher to connect a high fibre diet with better health. Studying rural communities in Africa, he noticed that eating a traditional diet resulted in healthier stools and bowel movements in contrast to those living in cities and consuming a western diet. Those eating local produce had extremely low incidences of diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diverticular disease, colon cancer or heart disease compared to those consuming a Western diet. After looking at many factors, Dr Burkitt concluded the high amount of fibre in traditional diets was necessary for maintaining good health.
A fibre rich diet can help to prevent constipation (see below), diverticulosis, bowel cancer and haemorrhoids. By increasing the water content of stools, they are easier to pass. Dietary fibre can also help obesity by slowing down digestion (keeping us fuller for longer) and helping the release of glucose and insulin. Soluble fibres have been shown to help normalise serum cholesterol levels by binding directly to cholesterol, decreasing the chance of re-absorption and promoting excretion.
...A note on constipation
People are constipated when they strain to have a bowel movement, have hard stools, infrequent or incomplete bowel movements or discomfort. Some people feel fatigue, aches and mental sluggishness from constipation. Constipation affects women twice as often as men and is more common in people over 65. Although age is commonly listed as a cause of constipation, it is attributed more to the result of lifestyle. Eating low-fibre, packaged or pre-prepared foods, certain medications and a lack of mobility can all contribute to constipation.
Women often notice that their bowel habits change at various times in their menstrual cycle. Pregnancy is a common but temporary cause and it may also be caused by an underactive thyroid. Bowel movements should be painless. If you experience pain or blood during a bowel movement, see your GP.
It is normal to have one to three soft bowel movements each day. Optimal bowel transit time is twelve to twenty four hours. Slow bowel transit time raises the risk of colon disease and contributes to other health problems.
...can be digested by the body and increases water content in the intestine to give a softer texture to the stool. Soluble fibre is made up of gums and other constituents of plant cells and plant cell walls that swell in water. Soluble fibre promotes the excretion of cholesterol and can be helpful for those suffering from haemorrhoids.
...is traditionally known as roughage, insoluble fibre consists mainly of cellulose which absorbs water but passes through the bowel almost undigested. Foods rich in insoluble fibre fill you up and are effective at increasing stool size and bulk thus promoting regular bowel movements.
|Citrus fruit||Wheat bran|
|Oats||Fruit & vegetables|
- Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
- Making wholegrains the rule and processed grains the exception.
- Starting the day with a high-fibre breakfast cereal (bran, oats or wholegrain) topped with dried or fresh fruit. Most cereals give an average of 3 grams of fibre per serving.
- Choosing wholemeal, wholegrain, granary or multi-seed bread.
- Adding legumes such as kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas, which have a large amount of dietary fibre, to stews and casseroles.
Things to watch out for
Increase the amount of fibre in your diet slowly. A quick change from a low-fibre to a high-fibre diet can cause gas, cramps and bloating.
Choose wholegrain/brown toast topped with:
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Jo Lewin holds a degree in nutritional therapy and works as a community health nutritionist and private consultant. She is an accredited member of BANT and is covered by the association's code of ethics and practice.
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