Because fibre isn't absorbed by the body and provides us with neither calories nor vitamins, it's not considered to be an actual nutrient. However, fibre still plays an essential role in a healthy diet, because we need it to digest and process the other foods that we intake, and it helps our bodies to absorb the nutrients supplied by these foods. Fibre can also play a key role in lowering your blood cholesterol levels.
Fibre is not present in animal foods, so we need to incorporate plant based food as an integral part of our healthy diet to ensure that we get enough fibre into our bodies. Fibre slows the rate of our food’s passage through the small intestine, making us feel fuller for longer - so by getting the right amount of fibre, our appetite is kept under control and we won’t be tempted by that sugary, unhealthy treat after dinner!
Soluble fibre and insoluble fibre
Fibre comes in two different forms: soluble and insoluble. As you would probably imagine from their names, the different types of fibre refer to the way they react in our bodies.
When we incorporate soluble fibre into our diets, it dissolves when it reaches our stomach. This creates an effect on the rate of absorption of the fats and sugars that we also ingest; soluble fibre hinders fat absorption, which in turn, can lower cholesterol, and because fibre slows down the absorption of the sugars that we eat, it controls our blood sugar levels too. For this reason, fibre can be incredibly useful when it comes to the prevention and management of diabetes.
When we ingest insoluble fibre, instead of dissolving in our stomachs, it absorbs water and expands - leading to that 'feeling full' effect. Insoluble fibre reacts in the small intestine to help us absorb nutrients, and also allows us to produce softer stalls which are easier for us to pass. Because of this effect, insoluble fibre can help to prevent constipation and other bowel issues.
Soluble and insoluble fibre - where will I find it?
If you want to give your digestive system a helping hand and enjoy the other benefits of fibre intake as part of your healthy eating plan, there are certain things that you should consider including in your daily diet.
Soluble fibre is present in most of the fruits and vegetables that we eat. However, it is found in particularly high levels in the following foods:
Good sources of insoluble fibre include:
Whole grain foods
How much fibre should I eat?
While there are no current guidelines to state exactly what proportions of soluble and insoluble fibre we should ingest every day, there are general recommendations for fibre as a whole.
Men should aim to eat around 38g of fibre every day, while women should aim for a smaller 25g. It’s estimated that of the fibre that we eat in an average diet, ¾ of it is the insoluble type, whilst the other ¼ comes from soluble fibre.