Fibre is the poor relation of nutrition, and recent research suggests there’s a huge gap between how much we need and how much we eat. Anna Magee reports
Say the word ‘fibre’ to most people and they’ll tell you it’s something found in beans and bran before changing the subject. That’s about the extent of our fibre knowledge.
It’s no wonder then, that most recent figures from Public Health England (PHE)’s latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) show that while the government recommends we get 30 grams of fibre a day, the average Brit gets just 18. What’s more, only six per cent of us know how much fibre we need.
Why do we need fibre?
Why does this matter? Well, first there are the obvious reasons. According to the NHS, fibre can help prevent constipation (another big problem for Brits and one we rarely talk about), bloating and even weight gain, as fibre helps digestion, allowing nutrients to be absorbed better by the body and also allows you to feel fuller for longer between meals. The NHS website also asserts there is also strong evidence that eating plenty of fibre (commonly referred to as roughage) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
What are some of the myths many of us believe about fibre?
MYTH #1: I’m getting enough
Coronation Street actress Sally Lindsay, 44, thought her fibre intake was just fine until she spent a day with TV medic Dr Ranj Singh. The pair teamed up as part of the Arla Fibre (high fibre yoghurt) campaign.
‘I get overwhelmed with food advice and always think I am doing the wrong thing, but one thing I’ve not really thought much about is fibre,’ says Sally (pictured left), who lives in London with her husband and two twin sons.
‘I thought my diet was pretty healthy, I’d have cereal or toast in the morning, a simple ham and salad sandwich on white bread for lunch, crisps or whatever was around as a snack on set and perhaps a pasta or rice dish for dinner.’ Like 61 per cent of the British population, Sally would eat much the same thing most days.
It turns out, Sally was eating just 17.9 grams of fibre a day (much like the average Brit who gets 18 grams), and her intake was far off the 30 gram intake the government recommends. So, Dr Singh suggested a number of super easy fibre swaps to increase her intake.
‘Simply swapping white bread for brown, white pasta for wholemeal and white rice for brown can hugely influence fibre intake without making much difference to taste,’ says Dr Singh.
‘I still use the boil in the bag brown rice which take about two minutes, so the changes haven’t even added much to my cooking time,’ says Sally. ‘Now instead of snacking on anything and everything on set I will have a banana and the increased fibre in my diet means I feel full between meals and have much more energy than before.’
MYTH #2: It’s mainly in bran flakes, beans and cereals
‘I was so surprised to find out fibre was in so many more foods. But also, the tiny changes you could make to your diet that would help increase levels,’ said Sally.
For example, 20 grams of sesame seeds, which can be easily sprinkled onto a stir fry, contain 2.4 grams of fibre, which could certainly help bridge your fibre gap in the course of a day’s eating. Fibre is also found in beans, pulses, nuts, fruits and vegetables (see below).
MYTH #3: All fibre is created equal
There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. It is also found in psyllium, a common fibre supplement. Some types of soluble fibre may help lower risk of heart disease, such as oat bran. Insoluble fire is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains.
The good news is, you don’t have to worry too much about it, because most fibre foods contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. According to the British Nutrition Foundation: ‘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 oats and fruit) 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’.
MYTH #4: Any fruits and vegetables provide good fibre
Well, this one is kind of true – all vegetables and fruit do provide fibre. But some provide more than others. And one tiny change recommended by Dr Singh makes all the difference. ‘Simply leaving the skin on potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables as well as cucumbers and radishes, can increase their fibre intake,’ says Dr Singh.
Especially high fibre choices in vegetables include peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and artichokes and yes, most beans and lentils.
The same goes for fruit. You can’t exactly leave the skin on a banana or orange, of course, but peeling an apple will remove not only a massive chunk of its fibre content in the skin, it will also remove some of the antioxidants it contains. Some people even leave the skin on kiwi fruits (I do!), for an extra hit of fibre along with the massive vitamin C levels (much more than oranges) they contain.
MYTH #5: It’s hard to get children to eat fibre
For Sally Lindsay, getting more fibre into her kids’ diets was simple, once she knew what to do. ‘They love sweets,’ she says. ‘But Dr Singh suggested I cut up carrot sticks and leave the skin on and they get plenty of sweetness from those. Now I also give them wholemeal wraps with boiled chicken and vegetables they love making them themselves.’
9 simple swaps to get more fibre into your diet
Dr Ranj Singh (left) provides some of the swaps he recommended to Corrie‘s Sally Lindsay, to help the rest of us get some more fibre into your diets.
SWAP: shop-bought pesto for your own
Use sesame seeds instead of pine nuts will help to add in some extra fibre (1.6g extra per portion) as well as some variety and a different texture.
SWAP: apple sticks for carrots
Carrots are jam-packed with fibre (3.1g per portion). Both are equally as good for you, but the latter will help you reach that 30g a day recommendation a lot quicker.
SWAP: grapes for strawberries
When picking a fruity snack to eat during the day, instead of reaching for the grapes (1.3g), go for sweet strawberries (3.8g) instead for a fibre-full fruit bowl.
SWAP: low-fat yoghurt for a high-fibre one
Swap low fat fruit yogurt for a pot of Arla Fibre yoghurt (left), containing 4.7g of fibre in every 150g serving.
SWAP: cream crackers for rye bread
If you usually spread your hummus or cream cheese on cream crackers, try swapping these for rye bread which will add extra fibre by 6.4g – giving you an extra nudge towards your 30g daily target.
SWAP: cashews for almonds
Not all nuts are the same, so when deciding which ones to go for, swap cashews for almonds – even small 20g portions can see you increase a whole added 1g to your fibre intake.
SWAP: cereal for overnight oats
Swap your morning breakfast cereal for overnight rolled oats, for an extra dose of fibre in the morning. Overnight oats are such a quick and easy dish to put together and you can top it with your favourite fibre packed fruits and nuts.
SWAP: Burger bun for wholemeal pitta bread
Try swapping your standard white burger bun for a wholemeal pitta bread – it works just as well AND contains more fibre.
SWAP: Sultanas or raisins for dates
Swap sultanas or raisins for dates in your next sugar free cake, equally as tasty but just packed with more fibre.
Watch the video about Sally Lindsay’s fibre makeover here.
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