How to eat well: Add more fibre to meals

By Ian Marber, April 15, 2013
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Unlike other elements of the diet fibre doesn’t get mentioned so often these days. Yet it’s a vital part of a healthy eating plan and many people simply don’t get enough.

Fibre is derived from plant-based foods and comes in two forms — soluble and insoluble — although they are usually found together. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and can act as a prebiotic, supporting the activity and growth of the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. It also slows down the speed at which foods pass through the system, which, in turn, has a positive influence on blood glucose levels. The knock-on effect is reduced appetite and more consistent energy levels thus avoiding that fatigue that means we reach for an energy boost. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to food as it doesn’t break down in water, and can help bowel regularity and enhance elimination.

In 2011 the National Cancer Institute in the US published the results of a nine-year study into fibre intake and life expectancy. Some 400,000 adults were tracked over the period and the results found that those who are a high fibre diet resulted in a 22 per cent reduction in mortality rate than those eating little fibre. The conditions that were most reduced were cancer, infection and cardiovascular disease.

The study recommends that men of 50-plus should be getting 38g of fibre daily while women should have 25g (aged less than 50 this figure reduces slightly to 30g and 21g respectively). In this country the Government recommendations are that we should be having at least 18g a day, although it’s estimated that most adults get no more than 13g. Bear in mind that fibre comes from vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes and grains and so getting a little of each every day is an efficient way to get what you need.

But what would you have to eat to achieve this? You might have porridge and fresh fruit at breakfast. Then a mid morning snack of a handful of unsalted nuts, with their skins on, and some sliced peppers. Lunch might be a granary bread sandwich, with a salad including chickpeas or kidney beans. Your afternoon snack might be a rye cracker with cottage cheese and sliced tomato while you could have brown rice and vegetables served with fish or poultry in the evening.

Ian Marber is one of the UK’s most highly regarded nutrition experts and the author of 11 books. www.ianmarber.com

Last updated: 1:33pm, April 15 2013