Weave fibre into tapestry of a healthy diet

Health benefits of a diet high in fibre include reduction in cholesterol and protection against certain cancers

Fibre provides a source of energy for the friendly probiotic bacteria living in the large intestine that in turn may help to boost the immune system

Fibre provides a source of energy for the friendly probiotic bacteria living in the large intestine that in turn may help to boost the immune system

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:00

Fibre is a vital but often forgotten nutrient for health. It plays a role in digestion and in reducing our risk of heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer. Fibre also provides a source of energy for the friendly probiotic bacteria living in the large intestine that in turn may help to boost the immune system.

Currently it seems there is a growing fixation on increasing protein for its satiety value when slimming and during post- training regimes to support muscle recovery. Protein has, of course, a powerful influence in both these strategies but it’s not magic. Hiking up your protein consumption to the detriment of your fibre-rich carbohydrate intake is not a good tactic.

Many of us would do well to cut down our sugar intake, but this doesn’t mean “cut out all carbohydrates and replace them with proteins”.

It means you should limit, or cut out if you desire, foods containing added sugar (sometimes called free sugars) found in biscuits, buns, cakes, jams, confectionery, sugar-containing soft drinks and fruit juices (especially sweetened juices). Instead, enjoy high-fibre carbohydrates such as whole-grain cereals, pulses (such as kidney beans, lentils or haricot beans), potatoes with skins, vegetables and fruits as part of meals and snacks. The serving sizes of these foods will depend on your food preferences, how active you are or whether you wish to lose weight.

Just a few weeks ago the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a committee of independent experts that advises the government, issued a draft report on carbohydrates and health which is open for discussion and consultation until September.

The British Nutrition Foundation reported that it was pleased the report emphasised the importance and benefits of fibre, describing it as a “Cinderella” nutrient in the last number of years.

You won’t find fibre in the guideline daily amounts box on the front of food packs to help you make a quick and easy comparison between two similar foods. Instead you have to turn the packs over and read the small print in the nutrition box.

Sometimes you might notice a nutrition claim on the pack, such as “high fibre”. This means the food must contain at least six grammes of fibre per 100g. Animal foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and diary are not fibre providers. Neither are highly refined carbohydrates. When advocates of high-protein diets tell me they don’t eat carbs, I’m always relieved to hear they make exceptions for great carbohydrates such as porridge, sweet potato and quinoa.

According to the latest National Adult Nutrition Survey, published in 2011, current intakes of fibre are generally inadequate in Irish adults, with more than 80 per cent not meeting the European Food Safety Authority recommendation of 25g a day.