What is Fibre?


high fibre foods of cereal fruit and nuts

Healthy high fibre breakfast of muesli, yogurt and sharon fruit

See below for all about fibre and top tips on how to enjoy fibre daily

Why is Fibre so good for your Health?

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate, found in plants and essential to good health. Fibre is the structural part of the plant which can help us to understand how it works in the body. We know that people who consume a high fibre diet enjoy a variety of health benefits e.g. a regular bowel movement. A high fibre diet is also protective to the development of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and can help with weight loss. By enjoying more plant based foods in your diet,  you can reduce the flow of bile from the liver caused by a heavy meat based diet, this in turn reduces the amount of carcinogens reaching the bowel. Potential carcinogens can be swept through the bowel by different types of fibre, so decreasing the amount of time they might spend in the bowel and reducing the risk of colon cancer.

Different plants may have more of one type of fibre than another, but most plants will contain a variety.  You might think that one source of fibre is better than another, but as with all things nutrition most benefits to health are achieved when we consume the variety of different fibres.  See below:

What is Insoluble Fibre?

Insoluble fibre  does not dissolve in water, nor is it fermented by bacteria. Instead insoluble fibre  absorbs and retains water  and bulks up the stool. This helps to ease the passage of the stool through the large bowel, and  as the stool passes through this part of the digestive system it collects toxins and carcinogens and other  residue such as dead bacteria and dead cells from the lining of the gut.  I think of insoluble fibre like a bottle brush cleaning the bowel.  Because of this collecting or cleansing ability insoluble fibre is considered to be protective to colon (large bowel) cancer.

Good Sources of  Insoluble Fibre

  • wholegrain cereals such as wheat, rye, barley, teff, quinoa, amaranth, spelt
  • corn bran e.g. popcorn
  • nuts – peanuts, almonds, walnuts
  • seeds – chia and flaxseeds
  • the skins from most tree fruits e.g. apples and pears
  • potatoes
  • green vegetables e.g. courgettes, green beans, cauliflower, and celery
  • fruits e.g. tomatoes and kiwis

What is Soluble Fibre?

Soluble fibre arrives to the large bowel and is fermented by the bacteria that live there, or is used by them as a food source.   When foods containing soluble fibre are consumed the soluble fibre dissolves in water in the stomach and forms a thick gel like substance. This is one of the reasons why soluble fibre is considered helpful to weight loss. The gel sits over the opening of the stomach into the small intestine and so keeps food in the stomach, helping us to feel fuller for longer.  Consuming soluble fibres on a regular basis can also help to reduce cholesterol levels and protect us from developing coronary heart disease.

Good Sources of Soluble Fibre

  • oats, barley, rye
  • lentils, beans and peas, soya beans
  • fruits e.g. berries, plums, apples, bananas, pears
  • carrots and broccoli
  • nuts and seeds

What are Prebiotic Soluble Fibres?

Prebiotic fibres are non-digestible fibres which help to feed the good bacteria in the gut.  By providing nourishment for the good bacteria they help to achieve and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria necessary for a healthy gut wall. It is thought that if the balance of good and bad bacteria is upset this may make the bowel wall weak, allowing toxins and even colon bacteria to seep from the bowel to other other parts of the digestive system where they do not normally live e.g. the small intestine. Maintaining a healthy gut wall is important to the maintenance of a good immune system as it’s in the gut wall that the immune system is primarily located. Another positive for the prebiotic fibres is their ability to turn off hunger hormones produced by the gut wall maintaining our feelings of fullness for longer..

Good sources of  Prebiotic Soluble Fibres

  • asparagus
  • yam
  • onions, garlic, leeks
  • bananas
  • chicory and some other root vegetables such as Jerusalem artichoke
  • agave
  • wheat, rye, barley

Rethink your plate and include more high fibre foods in your diet  

Think Wholegrains

Choose brown rice, pasta, and bread with bits such as nuts and seeds. Enjoy a variety of wholegrains by e.g. having a wholegrain cereal such as oats for breakfast, a wholegrain sandwich for lunch or rice/couscous/pasta salad, then an evening meal with barley/noodles or quinoa. As always with diet – variety is best.

Think Fruits

Try to have a piece of fruit at each meal, either as part of the meal or as your dessert. Fruits can be your snack in the afternoon or your evening treat, with lots of different coloured fruits lending different benefits.

Think Vegetables

Consider the vegetable part of your lunch or evening meal before you think about any other content. This may help you to balance  your meals better and make sure that you are getting enough vegetable fibre for your healthy bowel bacteria.

Think Legumes and Pulses

Enjoy more plant based and use legumes (beans), peas and soya beans more regularly through your week. Having a meat free Monday is a great place to start.  Working yourself towards a more plant based diet will not only improve the fibre content of your diet but will also be good for the planet.  You know it makes sense.

Think Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds add crunch and taste to most meals and a heathy dollop of fibre in the same mouthful. Whether its walnuts on porridge,  a nut butter on oat cakes, peanuts on a stirfry, or a topping of seeds on your salad, including more nuts and seeds in your daily diet is a healthy step indeed.

It’s easy to include more fibre in the diet, once you know how. Get in touch if you are finding it tricky.

Felicity Lyons

Hi there! My name is Felicity. I am a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist with a proactive approach to healthy living. My job is to interpret the complexity of nutrition science and translate it into messages and guidance that you can understand. Healthy Living? It's easier than you think!