WHAT IS DIETARY FIBER AND HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR HEALTH?

What is fibre?

Dietary fibre is a term that is used for plant-based carbohydrates that, unlike other carbohydrates (such as sugars and starch), are not digested in the small intestine and so reaches the large intestine or colon.

Soluble and insoluble fibre

You may have heard of the terms ‘soluble fibre’ or ‘insoluble fibre’– these are words that are sometimes used to describe the types of fibre in our diet. Although scientific organisations argue that these terms are no longer really appropriate, you may see these terms being used, with soluble fibre including pectins and beta glucans (found for example in foods like fruit and oats) and insoluble fibre including cellulose (found for example in wholegrains and nuts). What is important to remember is that fibre-rich foods typically contain both types of fibre.

Fibre rich foods include

  • Wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain bread and oats, barley and rye
  • Fruit such as berries, pears,  melon and oranges
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and sweetcorn
  • Peas, beans and pulses
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Potatoes with skin

How does fibre benefit health?

Fibre helps to keep our digestive system healthy and helps to prevent constipation. For example, fibre bulks up stools, makes stools softer and easier to pass and makes waste move through the digestive tract more quickly.

The European Food Safety Authority suggests that including fibre rich foods in a healthy balanced diet can improve weight maintenance. Dietary fibre is helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle in so many ways:

  • Reduces the risk of Cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) and type 2 diabetes
  • Reduces cholesterol levels if you consume 3g or more of it daily
  • Reduces the risk of Colorectal cancer (bowel cancer)

How to increase you fibre intake?

  • Choose a high fibre breakfast cereal e.g. wholegrain cereal like wholewheat biscuit cereal, no added sugar muesli, bran flakes or porridge. Why not add some fresh fruit, dried fruit, seeds and/or nuts.
  • Go for wholemeal or seeded wholegrain breads. If your family only typically likes white bread, why not try the versions that combine white and wholemeal flours as a start.
  • Choose whole-grains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
  • Go for potatoes with skins e.g. baked potato, wedges or boiled new potatoes – you can eat these hot or use for a salad.
  • For snacks try fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes, unsalted nuts or seeds.
  • Include plenty of vegetables with meals – either as a side dish/salad or added to sauces, stews or curries – this is a good way of getting children to eat more veg.
  • Keep a supply of frozen vegetables so you are never without.
  • Add pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries and salads.
  • Have some fresh or fruit canned in natural juice for dessert or a snack.

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