Fibre is essential to a healthy life. Here are tips for upping your intake

Most of us have a vague sense that fibre is a good thing to eat. But most probably don’t realise just how good. Aside from the benefits it has for our bowels, it is thought to protect everything from our heart to our teeth.

And few of us eat enough of it. The average consumption of fibre is 18g a day. The recommended daily amount is 25g to 30g – not far off double that. (Official guidelines in the UK recommend 30g).

To me this guidance seemed ludicrous. Surely you have to eat some form of sawdust for a meal to come close to that? So I put it to the test. I did what probably no one would do in real life — I worked out the amount of fibre I ate every day to find out if I could consume the recommended dose without succumbing to extreme boredom.

First, a note about what fibre actually is. It is the indigestible part of the food we eat. Some is soluble and can be digested by the body. It can increase water content within the intestine to make a softer stool. It can also help to clear cholesterol from the body. The other part is insoluble fibre — usually known as roughage. This can absorb water also, and usually passes through the intestine almost undigested. It serves to fill you up and to make more regular stool movements.

Foods containing soluble fibre are: oats, lentils, beans, fruit.
Foods containing insoluble fibre are: wheat bran, whole grain cereals, dried fruits, and corn.

Why is it so good? Fibre reduces the speed of absorption of food into the body and therefore reduces gluts of nutrients and sugars into the body, thereby modulating insulin secretion. It speeds up the transit of foods that otherwise would be harmful to the gut if kept static for prolonged periods of time — and this is one of the suggested mechanisms of how bowel cancer arises. It is suggested that it can protect against cardiovascular disease (by reducing cholesterol), oral health (by reducing the rate of dental caries) and diabetes (by reducing the speed of absorption and secretion of insulin in response to food).

So how did I do on the test? Here is what I ate on a typical time-pressured day:

Morning: Tea with a sausage and egg butty (brown sauce): 1.5g of fibre for the white bread; 2.4g fibre for sausages.

[Sausage sandwich with white bread was a bad start — but then again no one likes a hangry GP.]

Lunch: Chicken salad sandwich, 4.2g fibre; salt and vinegar crisps, 1.2g; two cups of smooth orange juice, 1.6g; banana, 2.6g.

Dinner: Mackerel fillets (no fibre); cooked beetroot, 2.2g; lettuce heads, 0.9g; buttermilk, 0g; panna cotta with raspberries, 6.5g.

Red wine (quantity unspecified): 0g.

I was dreading the results. In fact I managed 23g of fibre — just short of the 25g to 30g that is recommended. What helps is that surprising foods have small amounts of fibre in, even sausages. And eating one or two foods with a high fibre content makes all the difference. A banana, for instance, can be eaten in seconds, offering a handy 2.6g. And I now have an excellent excuse for panna cotta with added raspberries.

There are easy ways to increase my intake — drinking orange juice with the pulp in or opting for a brown bread sandwich. I could, like my family do, have sneaked seeds in here and there, if I was a bit keener.

The recommended guidelines aren’t so ludicrous after all. I nearly well met them and you probably can too.