What is fibre?

Fibre is a carbohydrate that humans can’t digest in the small intestine so it ends up in the large intestine. It’s found in plants like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds.

If we don’t eat enough of it our digestion, and health, can suffer. Eating high fibre foods also helps us stay fuller for longer, supporting a healthy weight.

The benefits of fibre

Living in our gut we have trillions of microbes like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. The gut microbes help us with our digestion, as well as other important functions like creation of our hormones, some vitamins and neurotransmitters.

Our gut bacteria love to eat fibre, and because we don’t digest fibrous foods properly in our digestive tract, it forms the perfect food for our gut microbes who live in our colon.

Feeding these friendly gut bacteria will help to keep a healthy digestion, and support a healthy immune system.

If we don’t eat enough fibre rich foods it can affect more than just our bowel health. As well as the digestive benefits of fibre mentioned above, we also know that fibre supports cardiovascular health.

Research has shown if we are not eating enough fibre, then adding more fibre in can have significant benefit

  • When we increase fibre by 7g we can reduce the risk of heart disease by 9%.
  • For every extra 7g of fibre that we eat (up to the recommended limit) we can help prevent a stroke by 7%.
  • Increasing fibre by 7g may help to reduce the risk of diabetes by 6%.

Small changes to our diet can have a big impact.

How much fibre do children need?

We know that children aren’t eating the recommended intake at the moment in the UK.

  • 2-5 year olds should aim for 15g per day
  • 5-11 year olds should aim for 20g per day
  • 11-16 year olds should aim for 25g per day

Adults should eat around 30g of fibre a day. In Scotland, from April 2021 schools will need to follow new regulations around providing food to encourage children to eat a healthier diet. Part of these new regulations is an increase in the minimum requirements around fibre.

If you’re thinking of increasing fibre in your family diet, ensure everyone is drinking enough water as well to avoid constipation. Always make dietary changes slowly to allow your body time to adjust.

A piece of fruit like a pear or apple, depending on the size, will contain around 3-5g fibre. Avocados, berries like raspberries or strawberries, nuts, seeds can all be added to children’s diets.

How to increase your fibre intake

Add an extra vegetable to each meal. This will also help to boost the vitamins and minerals in your family diet.

  • Add beans and pulses to your stews, soups and curries. Beans are cheap, high in fibre and filling so they are a great way to make your food budget go further.
  • Choose whole grain cereals, breads and pasta over white versions.
  • Add ground nuts and seeds to porridge to increase the protein, healthy fats and fibre
  • Keep the skins on your vegetables. Peeling the skin off carrots, potatoes or parsnips removes some of the fibre and nutrients, so a good scrub in water will clean off any dirt, but there is no need to peel them.
  • Eating jacket potato with the skin may add a further 2g of fibre to your diet.
  • Choose a piece of fruit after meals instead of a sweetened pudding.
  • Snack on fruit

Fibre is an important part of our diet, and doesn’t need to be expensive or involve preparing complicated foods. Simple changes like adding a tin of beans to a meal can help increase the fibre your family eats.