Most of us are aware that we need a good amount of fibre in our diet, but what exactly is fibre? And how do we get more of it in our diet?
Soluble fibre and insoluble fibre: what’s the difference?
Fibre is actually the indigestible part of a plant, which holds its structure together.1
By indigestible, we mean that fibre passes through the small intestine and makes it, complete, to the large intestine.2
There are two kinds of fibres. The first is soluble, and it is normally soft and moist and found in the flesh of fruit and vegetables and pulses.
Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, is part of the outer shell of seeds, grains, fruit, and vegetables.
This fibre is tougher and harder for the large intestine to move along.3
Soluble fibre is the ideal kind to include in your diet, but insoluble fibre can be made easier to process by cooking it.
Drinking enough water is also important, and ripe fruit and vegetables tend to have more soluble fibre.
However, most fibre-rich foods contain both kinds, including foods such as wholegrain breakfast cereals.4
The benefits of fibre
Fibre can make us feel fuller.
Fibre is important for digestion. It works by making stools softer and also bulking them out, so the muscles of the intestine can more easily move them through.5,6
There is also some evidence that a fibre-rich diet can help increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut, which in turn is important to overall good health.7
What are the best high fibre foods?
Foods that are high in soluble fibre include fruits such as apples, bananas, pears, stone fruit like plums and peaches, melon, avocados, and tomatoes.
In most of these cases, you will want to remove the skins if you want to only consume soluble fibres.8
Soluble fibre foods
Vegetables that are high in soluble fibre include carrots, parsnips, turnips, cauliflowers, broccoli (cooked), and beetroot.
Pulses include beans, lentils, split peas, and chickpeas.9
For grains, you can get soluble fibre in oats, porridge, white bread, rice, and pasta.
Tahini and hummus are also good sources of fibre, and chia is a great source of soluble fibre.10,11
Insoluble fibre foods
Foods with insoluble fibreinclude citrus fruits, cherries, grapes, spinach, asparagus, cabbage, sweet corn, broad beans, lettuce, peppers, courgette, brown rice and bread, nuts, seeds, and peanut butter.12
How much fibre do I need?
But since fibre is in food which contains other nutrients and components, how can you be sure you are getting enough?
A good strategy is just to make sure you are getting fibre with every meal. You will likely need to increase your current intake of fibre, especially if you have been dealing with any digestive issues. However, in some digestive issues, you may need to decrease the fibre so deleted.
To do this, consider fibre-rich breakfast cereals or oats to start the day.
You can also include oat-based muesli.14 You can add beans, lentils, or chickpeas to your stews, soups, and salads.15
Make sure you are getting plenty of vegetables (five servings a day), and for snacks, you can try fresh fruit, vegetable sticks (carrots with tahini is just perfect), rye crackers, or oatcakes.
To give you a rough idea, a cup of frozen mixed vegetables contains 8.6 grams of fibre, and 1 small boiled potato with the skin contains 2.8 grams. Two pieces of fruit – an apple and pear – contain 4.9 grams of fibre. A cup of white cooked spaghetti contains 2.5 grams. 16
If you eat 100 grams of chia (and that can be hard, you will likely use about 10% of that if you’re sprinkling it on your salad or adding it to a shake or to oats) you will get 34 grams of dietary fibre.17
Last updated: 23 October 2020