You probably realise that including fibre in your diet is a good thing, but the benefits go far further than keeping us 'regular'. Fibre can protect our hearts and lower our cholesterol levels. Yet most people in the UK aren't getting enough of it.
What is fibre?
Fibre is the indigestible part of plant foods. It mainly comes in two types: soluble and insoluble, and both are important in our diet.
Soluble fibre is found in foods like grains such as oat and rye, beans and pulses, root vegetables (like carrots and potatoes) and fruits like apples and bananas. Soluble fibre can be purified and added to foods and supplements to boost their fibre content. In this purified form, it’s referred to as ‘functional fibre’.
Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrain cereal foods such as brown pasta, wholemeal bread, brown rice and other whole grains. Vegetables and potatoes with skins, nuts and seeds also provide us with insoluble fibre, but in much smaller amounts.
If you have a healthy diet with whole grains, pulses, plus fruit and vegetables you should be ticking both fibre boxes. Most of us could do with eating more of it. "The current average adult intakes are failing to exceed 18g of fibre daily where we should now be trying to have 30g a day," says Tanya Haffner, dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
So how does fibre help us? Well it's best known for keeping our digestive systems working properly and regularly, and helping to maintain healthy bowel function, but research has shown it can help your heart in a number of ways.
"There are several observational studies that have shown that people who eat a diet rich in fibre tend to have healthier hearts," says Linda Main, dietetic adviser to HEART UK, the cholesterol charity.
"This is probably because a high fibre diet is reflective of one that is rich in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses - all high fibre foods that are heart healthy," adds Linda.