January is often a time when people look to change their diet to become more healthy and, thanks to a landmark study in the Lancet, there’s a better-than-usual chance that many of those people will make a lasting positive change simply by eating more fibre in 2019.
The research looked at the results of observational studies and clinical trials conducted over a period of 40 years and found that eating at least 25g to 29g of fibre each day was linked to positive health outcomes including reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.
Here at Coach we like to think of ourselves as fibre hipsters, liking fibre before it was cool (it is cool now, right? Good), and began assembling this list of high-fibre foods in 2016 to help you get your 30g a day, which is the recommended amount – and a mark only 9% of UK adults reach.
But to double down and help you up your fibre intake, we asked dietitian Sarah Elder of the British Dietetic Association, registered nutritionist Dr Glenys Jones of the Association for Nutrition, and Emily Robinson, assistant nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, for their expert advice on how you can make sure you’re getting enough fibre in your diet.
What types of foods are high in fibre?
“Wholegrain – also called wholewheat or wholemeal depending on the food – varieties varieties of food have a bigger fibre kick than their white counterparts,” says Jones. “Also good for adding fibre to the diet are foods like a baked potato with the skin left on, lentils, beans, and veg like carrots, peas, parsnips and sweetcorn. You can also look to nuts, seeds and fruit like apples, pears and oranges for good fibre-filled snacks.”
“Seeds and nuts that are high in fibre include almonds, peanuts and sunflower seeds,” says Elder. “On food labels a food product is ‘high fibre’ if it contains at least 6g of fibre per 100g and ‘source of fibre’ if it contains at least 3g of fibre per 100g.”
Are there any food swaps people can make to increase their fibre intake?
“At breakfast, you could swap white toast, jam and orange juice (1.6g fibre) for wholemeal toast, peanut butter and a whole orange (9.4g fibre),” says Robinson. “Or opt for porridge or high-fibre breakfast cereals like bran flakes or wheat biscuits and add some fruit and nuts.
“At lunch, try swapping a cream of chicken soup for a lentil soup, or make sure you eat the skin on your baked potato for an extra 2.2g of fibre. Add sweetcorn to your tuna and include salad on the side.
“At dinner, swap white pasta for wholewheat pasta for an extra 5.5g of fibre. Or swap the chicken in your favourite curry for chickpeas and extra vegetables, and serve with brown rice instead of white.”
“It’s not so much a swap, but add extra beans, lentils and/or veggies like carrots to dishes like chilli, bolognese, shepherd’s pie, curries and casseroles,” says Jones. “These not only increase the fibre content but also help bulk the dishes out, making them go further.”
What are good snacks that will increase your fibre intake?
“Fruits such as bananas, apples and peaches, depending on the season,” says Elder. “Try apple or celery with peanut butter for a filling snack, or flapjacks containing nuts and dried fruit.”
“Making sure you get your five-a-day of a variety of fruit and vegetables is a great start to increasing your fibre intake,” says Robinson. “Other good snack options to help you boost your fibre intake include a handful of unsalted nuts or seeds, vegetable sticks with low-fat hummus, and oatcakes or rye crackers.”
Do you have any other general advice for ensuring you eat enough fibre?
"The flavour of wholegrain varieties is quite different if you are used to eating the white version,” says Jones. “Try a 50:50 variety or mix to help you and your family get used to the taste.
“Think of fibre as being a foundation for your main meals, then with a snack on top you can achieve the 30g recommendation with lots of tasty meals.”
Elder provides an example day’s menu to increase your intake to around 30g:
Breakfast: High-fibre cereal that contains oats or porridge/overnight oats with fruit
Snack: Seed and nut cereal bar
Lunch: Wholemeal pasta salad with beans and two portions of vegetables
Snack: Flapjack with sunflower seeds
Evening meal: Add some lentils to a meat stew and have potatoes with the skin left on as well as two portions of vegetables
Supper: Peanut butter on two slices of wholemeal toast
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Are there any side effects people might notice if they suddenly switch to a high-fibre diet?
“It can be a good idea to increase your intake gradually so you get used to your new diet and the increased bulk this provides in the bowel,” says Jones. “Some have reported experiencing bloating, abdominal cramps and gas when they have swapped quickly from a low-fibre to high-fibre diet, but this is not typically seen when the fibre intake is gradually increased and the person stays well hydrated.”
“It is important to drink plenty of fluids – around six to eight glasses a day for adults – because fibre absorbs water in the gut, and to try to be active for at least 150 minutes a week because this also aids absorption,” says Robinson.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.