High fibre foods | How to get more fibre in your diet

It’s no secret that getting more fibre in your diet is a great way to keep your digestive system healthy. Diets that are high in fibre are closely linked with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Find out more about fibre and how to get more of it into your diet using the expert information below.

What is fibre?

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that is present to some extent in all grains, fruits, veg, pulses, legumes, and nuts. You may see fibre referred to as ‘non-starch polysaccharide’ on food labels or packaging.

What are the benefits of eating more?

Although fibre has a low energy density, it does have several important health benefits.

Fibre helps with digestion by moving and preventing the build-up of any substances in the digestive tract that might lead to a blockage in our stomach and intestines.

Consciously eating foods that are high in fibre can also help reduce our low-density lipoprotein levels. Consuming more fibrous beans, oats, nuts, seeds, and vegetables means we fill ourselves up on foods that are better for the overall health of our heart.

On top of this, fibre can help control our blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar after we eat. Fibre is also a gastric inhibitor that can help delay the emptying of your stomach. This makes eating more fibre a great way to help maintain feelings of fullness for longer.

Are there different types of fibre?

The two main types of fibre are soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance as it passes through our digestive tract. It soaks up bile acid, cholesterol and fat and can be found in foods like the flesh of fruit & vegetables as well as grains.

Insoluble fibre (regularly referred to as ‘roughage’) is like a brush. It clears out any blockages and makes sure any food we eat passes through our stomach and intestines without issue. Insoluble fibre can be found in nuts, beans, vegetables, and grains.

The human digestive system lacks the enzymes needed to break fibre down and can therefore be seen as a ‘calorie-free’ food.

How much fibre should we be eating?

The NHS recommend adults aim to eat around 30g of fibre per day. This amount can vary depending on your age, weight and the volume of food you eat throughout the day.

A good way to get informed about the fibre content of the foods you eat is to start checking the labels and packaging on your food. This can help us make informed dietary decisions by learning more about the fibre, salt, fat, protein, and carbohydrate content of the foods we eat.

If you have questions about your fibre intake or are concerned you aren’t getting enough, consider consulting a GP for advice before making any adjustments to your diet.

Signs you aren’t getting enough

Signs you aren't eating enough fibre include:

  • Constipation
  • Feeling hungry soon after eating
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Feeling tired and sluggish throughout the day
  • Signs of inflammation
  • Joint pain

Not eating enough fibre can also contribute to the symptoms associated with certain short and long-term health conditions. These include stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and diverticulitis.

Safely increasing your fibre intake

If you increase your fibre intake, it’s important you do so gradually. If you suddenly flood your body with fibre, you may experience digestive discomfort whilst your body takes time to adapt.

To safely increase your fibre intake, try adding a new fruit or veg to one of your main meals. Once you’ve been doing this consistently for a few weeks, do the same again.

Introduce foods that work for you over time and chart the progress of how your body feels. Because fibre aids with digestion, tracking changes to your bowel movements can be a good way to understand the unique impact of fibre on your body.

How much is too much?

There is a fine line between eating too much fibre and not getting enough.

Whilst the ideal amount will vary from person to person, the general goal should be to eat enough to support your body with the effective digestion of food. 

If you start to experience gas, bloating, or cramping, it might be that you have too much fibre in your diet or that you have increased the amount you eat too quickly.

How can I get more fibre in my diet?

Making healthy changes to your diet generally means you naturally start to eat more fibre. This is because the whole foods (vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains) that make up the bulk of a healthy diet typically have a higher fibre content than more unhealthy, processed options.

What are some healthy high fibre foods?

Some high fibre foods include:

  • Chia seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds
  • Edamame beans and split peas
  • Almonds, pistachios, and walnuts
  • Avocados
  • Raspberries, apples, pears, strawberries, bananas,
  • Broccoli, carrots, sprouts, and sweet potato
  • Oats
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Beetroot
  • Kidney beans and chickpeas
  • Black beans
  • Dark chocolate

High-fibre meals

  • Breakfast: porridge (oats & milk) with raspberries, peanut butter, and chopped almonds
  • Lunch: tuna and sweet potato salad with a tahini dressing
  • Dinner: three bean chilli con carne with quinoa and homemade hummus
  • Snacks: Greek yogurt with pear, walnuts, and dark chocolate.

Try to opt for fruits and potatoes that have their skins on where possible and choose wholemeal bread over white as this option is less refined and more fibrous.

Are fibre supplements safe?

As with all supplements, they should be taken to supplement your diet.

Ideally, getting fibre from its dietary sources is always the best option. If you can’t get 30g into your diet through the foods, then you may wish to try a supplement.

This should be considered and recommended as a last resort, especially since any recommendation list of fibrous foods will feature a highly diverse range of options to suit all dietary needs and requirements.

How to get children to eat more fibre

A great way to get children to eat more fibre is by cutting their fruit up for them and popping it into a bowl like a fruit salad.

You could also go for carrot sticks and hummus, as the dip supplements their vegetable intake nicely.

Other options include blending vegetables and beans into a soup. Liquidised options are a great way to get additional fibre in for both children and adults.

The bottom line

Fibre is a vital component of our diet for good digestive health. Without it, we can quickly feel bloated, constipated, and lethargic.

A great place to start is to experiment with new fibrous foods and make sure you’re eating enough fruit and vegetables. This should make sure you’re easily reaching the recommended 30g per day.

Last updated Wednesday 6 March 2024

First published on Wednesday 6 March 2024