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Spotlight on… dietary fibre

From a healthy gut to lowering cholesterol, the role of fibre cannot be overstated, says Egzona Makolli, expert nutritionist at health, beauty & wellbeing site Kijani Living

Lentils, pulses and seeds

While we know that dietary fibre is essential to our digestive system, increasing our intake can actually have many varied benefits.

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Fibre is a plant-based complex carbohydrate, which we cannot digest or absorb, meaning that it passes through the body relatively intact. It can be split into two types – insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble fibre, as the name suggests, does not dissolve in water and is left intact as food moves through the digestive tract. This type is found in the seeds and skins of fruit, nuts and wholemeal bread and grains and is vital in promoting good digestive health by helping to keep the digestive tract flowing.

Soluble fibre dissolves in water and is broken down into a gel-like substance as it moves through the body. It has more varied benefits.

Current evidence shows that eating plenty of soluble fibre can stabilise blood sugar as it slows down the digestion of fats and sugars. It has also been linked to a reduction in cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

Some soluble fibres can also be fermented in the gut, essentially functioning as a prebiotic and extending the life of good bacteria in our microbiomes.

Soluble fibre is usually found alongside insoluble fibre but the balance between the two varies in different foods. Foods that contain a relatively high amount of soluble fibre include black beans, broccoli, avocado, sweet potatoes, pears and carrots.

The World Health Organisation guidelines state that adults need at least 25g to 29g of fibre every day, but that eating over 30g is likely to be even more beneficial. When you consider that a slice of wholemeal bread contains around 2g of fibre, it’s not surprising that many of us are not actually getting enough.

The first step to upping our dietary fibre is to opt for whole grain staple foods – bread, pasta and rice. Then, it’s about working more grains, pulses, veggies and fresh or dried fruit into all of our meals. If you’re not sure if you’re getting enough fibre in your diet, keep a food diary for a week to help you work out where you might be missing out and ways to up your intake.

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5 ways to up your fibre intake

  1. Wholemeal pasta is a really simple way to give your diet a big fibre boost – 75g of wholewheat spaghetti contains about 8g of fibre. Combine this with a sauce containing beans or legumes to add even more.
  2. Spud-we-like! One medium potato with its skin on contains at least 4g of fibre. Add a serving of baked beans (150g of beans contains 8.8g) for a quick, low cost fibre-rich meal.
  3. Pulses, beans and legumes, such as peas and soybeans, are super high in fibre (100g of cooked lentils contains 8g of fibre). Try adding to stews, casseroles, soups and curries.
  4. Why not try some white mulberries, lucuma fruit or flax seeds from Organic Traditions (available from kijaniliving.com) for an easy way to add some fibre to your diet.
  5. Go (fruit and) nuts! A small (skin-on) apple, a (slightly green) banana and 30g nuts each contain about 3g of fibre.

Egzona Makolli

(BSc Hons. MSc ANutr)

Egzona knows how what we eat affects our overall health and is passionate about sharing her knowledge. Learn more about health and wellbeing at kijaniliving.com.

Egzoni Makoli