Adequate dietary fibre is essential for proper functioning of the gut and has also been related to risk reduction for a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.
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. It also includes other plant components like lignin. As dietary fibre is not digested in the small intestine it reaches the large intestine or colon. 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
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 can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) and type 2 diabetes.
Research has increasingly shown how important the bacteria in our gut may be to our health, and it has been suggested that a fibre rich diet can help increase the good bacteria in the gut. Some fibre types provide a food source for ‘friendly’ gut bacteria helping them to increase and produce substances which are thought to be protective such as short-chain fatty acids.
Daily Fibre requirements
5-11 years - 20g
11-16 - 25g
17+ years - 30g
Tips for meeting your fibre needs
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.
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.
Add pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries and salads.
Source: Dr Kate Marsh BSc, MNutrDiet, PhD, Grad Cert Diab Edn & Mgt Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian