A whopping 54% of Brits lack fibre in their diet – that’s a lot of us struggling!
So we asked top nutritionists for the easiest ways to boost our fibre intake and ensure we’re hitting the Government’s recommended 30g a day.
Keep track of what you eat
Before we even get to the foods themselves, it’s amazing what a little data can do for your health. Keep a diary of what you eat, even if it’s just for a week. It will give you a much better insight into your eating patterns. To be even more effective, note down the mood you’re in right before you eat. Our bad food choices are often emotional: boredom and anxiety are prime examples.
Nutritionist Marilyn Glenville explains: “By keeping a food diary you may discover that there are certain foods that trigger digestion issues or it could be the time of day which makes them worse, for instance when you are tired, or you may find your symptoms are linked to regularly stressful aspects of your week.”
Make time for breakfast
Upon waking, we’ve typically been fasting for at least 8 hours. To get us moving, our bodies produce the stress hormone cortisol: a natural occurrence, but not one to extend until lunchtime. Having breakfast when you wake up will stabilise your blood sugar and stave off a mid-morning crash. There are also fewer healthy options available once you’ve left home: what’s on offer is mostly low-fibre, like croissants. Same for goes your office cupboard: three chocolate digestives aren’t going to set you on the right path for digestive health.
Starting your day right can be as simple and delightful as avocado on toast. Half an avocado contains an astounding 6g of fibre. Beans are also a great option. Porridge has a healthy reputation for a reason and will keep you full until lunchtime.
Start loving oats
Oats are filling, low-cost, and versatile. They are also one of the best sources of soluble and insoluble dietary fibre you can find. They promote regular bowel movements and regulate blood sugar, meaning you can avoid those horrible afternoon dips in energy and performance. Whole grain porridge oats and oat-based muesli are great for a quick breakfast and whenever the urge to snack hits, reach for oatcakes instead of biscuits or crisps. Nairn’s have a gluten-free, gut-friendly range of all three, try their Rough Oatcakes to boost your fibre intake and take your snacking to the next level.
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns says, “The oats in oatcakes provide gentle fibre, which not only helps us stay regular, but also ‘feeds’ the friendly bacteria in the gut. These bacteria then make a substance called butyrate, which helps keep the lining of our gut healthy.”
Try high-fibre alternatives to your favourite foods
The best diet is the one you can stick to. Instead of feeling deprived, make some clever choices when meal-planning. The free-from aisle isn’t just for coeliacs: there’s an array of foods that will improve weekday routine, and that no longer represent a sacrifice on taste. Our tip is to go for products made by real foodies: gourmet food company Seggiano are leading the way with their artisan pastas made from high-fibre flours like quinoa and red lentil.
Cassandra Barns says: “Gluten-free pastas have been around for a long time. But most of them are made with those fast-absorbing refined flours such as potato, corn and rice flour. Thankfully, someone came up with the brilliant idea of making pasta from pulses such as peas and lentils. It’s up to three times higher in protein and in fibre than corn and rice pastas, meaning it will help to keep you fuller for longer – as well as being fabulously gluten free.”
Use this simple hack for maximum gut health
Think of fibre and probiotics as the Batman and Robin of gut health. Recent research has allowed scientists to understand a key part of how fibre enhances our immune system. While most fibre doesn’t actually feed the human body directly, it does provide nourishment to the millions of beneficial bacteria in our gut. Studies suggest that a low-fibre diet causes the number of bacteria in our stomach to diminish dramatically and leads to chronic inflammation.
The best practice for your health is to consume plenty of probiotic foods, which will introduce beneficial bacteria into your gut. Then let the fibre work its magic.
Examples of probiotic foods are fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha.
The surprising role of self-care
When we’re feeling stressed, it’s easy to reach for comfort foods that are high in sugar, carbs, and unhealthy fats – but more and more evidence points towards the fact that our moods are directly impacted by our gut health. So if junk food makes us feel bad, and feeling bad makes us reach for junk food, we get locked in a bad cycle and must break out of it.
“When we’re feeling stressed, digestion is not our body’s main priority…. It’s therefore important to manage our overall stress levels, whether it’s taking some time out from work or using practices such as meditation. And if you’re at work, don’t eat at your desk – get away into a more calming environment,” explains Cassandra. “In general, any gentle or moderate exercise – especially something that you enjoy – can be helpful for your digestion. Movement stimulates the gut, and doing something you enjoy will help lower your stress levels. As well as being relaxing, certain yoga positions or asanas can be helpful for encouraging digestion and relieving problems such as bloating and constipation. Perfect to wind down in the evening if you’ve had a stressful day.”
A few simple changes, upheld consistently, can make a world of difference to your fibre intake and your health. A diet high in fibre is linked to lower blood pressure, longevity and even mood – so the sooner you get started, the better you’ll be feeling.