Fabulous fibre

Fibre plays an important role in maintaining health, helping to lower your cholesterol levels, control your weight and blood glucose levels, and prevent bowel conditions such as constipation, diverticular disease and haemorrhoids. A high-fibre diet can even help to lower your risk of developing some serious health conditions, including diabetes and bowel cancer. April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in the UK, so what a perfect time to understand more about fibre and how it can help to reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer.

Twin benefits

There are two main types of fibre – soluble and insoluble - and although they have different effects on the body, high-fibre foods will typically provide a mix of both types.

Soluble fibre is water soluble and is broken down by the bacteria in your large bowel. It can help to control your overall cholesterol level and, therefore, your risk of cardiovascular disease, and can also soften your stools, especially if you’re constipated, making bowel movements more comfortable.

Good sources of soluble fibre include:

  • fruit such as apples and bananas

  • root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots

  • oats, rye and barley

  • beans

  • pulses and lentils

  • nuts and seeds

Insoluble fibre on the other hand cannot be broken down by the body and passes through your bowel relatively unchanged. Like soluble fibre, it can also help with bowel movements by helping the food to move through your bowels more quickly, helping to keep them healthy and prevent digestive problems.

Common foods that contain high amounts of insoluble fibre include:

  • wholemeal and wholegrain bread

  • brown pasta and rice

  • wholegrain breakfast cereals

  • bran, corn and wheat

  • fruit and vegetables

  • nuts and most seeds

You should also make sure that you drink at least eight to ten cups of healthy fluids every day to help the fibre do its work as well as keep you hydrated generally.

People with particular bowel conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are likely to find that increasing their intake of insoluble fibre makes their symptoms worse, in which case they should focus instead on foods high in soluble fibre.

In other cases, particularly if you’re constipated, your doctor may advise you to take fibre supplements. These are commonly available either as capsules, powders or linseeds or simply as unprocessed bran that you can mix in with your food and drinks.

Tips for upping your fibre intake

  • Stock your cupboards with wholegrain staples such as wholemeal pasta, seeded bread, oats, brown rice, wholegrain cereals, rye and whole-wheat crackers

  • Start the day with a high-fibre cereal like muesli or porridge or some wholegrain toast - add in some fresh fruit, nuts or seeds for an extra fibre and taste boost

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables - a banana at breakfast, fruit salads, extra vegetables in soups, curries and stews, healthy snacks - there are so many ways to get your five a day

  • Add lentils, pearl barley, brown rice or cracked wheat to casseroles, soups and stews or make a tasty salad with mixed beans

  • Eat the skins of fruit and vegetables wherever you can

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