26 May 2017 Supporting World Digestive Health Day May 29th – the importance of dietary fibre.
World Digestive Health Day is a global, public health, advocacy and awareness campaign run by the World Gastroenterology Organisation, held on the 29th May every year. The campaign focuses on digestive disorders, aiming to increase awareness of preventative measures, its prevalence across the globe and management and treatment of conditions.
To support the day, Food Active have written a blog discussing the importance of dietary fibre in our digestive health, benefits in terms of preventing disease, recommendations, and typical consumption in the UK.
The main function of fibre is promoting a healthy digestive system. Sufficient water consumption is also important. Fibre is non-starch polysaccharide carbohydrate, only found in plant-based foods. There are two different types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, which both have specific roles in our digestive system hence it is important to consume equal amounts of both. Insoluble sources in the diet are cereals (especially wholegrain varieties), potatoes and nuts. A typical 40g portion on bran flakes is approximately 8g of dietary fibre. Soluble sources of fibre include oats, beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables. A typical 150g portion of baked beans contains about 6.8g of fibre.
In 2015, the Scientary Advisory Committee on Nutrition increased the dietary reference values for fibre for the UK population to the following;
- 2-5 years old: 15g/day
- 5-11 years old: 20g/day
- 11-16 years old: 25g/day
- 17 years old and over: 30g/day
Meeting these intakes is achievable should individuals consume a healthy, balanced diet including 5 portions of fruit and vegetables and consuming plenty of wholegrains. Unfortunately, the latest round of National Diet and Nutrition Survey results indicate mean intakes of dietary fibre in adults are approximately 18g per day. Coincidently, only 25% of men and 28% of women aged 19-64 met the 5-A-DAY fruit and vegetable recommendations. In addition, the UK population are known to heavy rely on white, refined varieties of bread, pasta and rice as opposed to wholegrain. Both of these factors may be contributing towards inadequate fibre intakes in the UK.
There are numerous benefits to overall health in consuming a healthy and sufficient intake of fibre. Firstly, there is a large amount of evidence to suggest sufficient fibre intake prevents the development of bowel diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS) and Crohn’s disease. IBS affects an estimated 620,000 people in the UK, and incidence rates are rising annually. The prevalence of digestive and intestinal diseases are greatest among industrialised countries, where westernised diets are most prevalent – characterised by refined and processed white carbohydrates and meat products, with poor fruit and vegetable consumption. Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest healthy fibre intake can be preventative against colorectal and bowel cancers.
Another important benefit of fibre is controlling blood sugar levels. Fibre is able to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream, thus helping those suffering with diabetes. Without sources of soluble fibre in our meals, blood glucose levels and insulin tend to spike and fall rapidly after eating. There is also some evidence to suggest healthy fibre intakes can aid in losing and maintaining weight, as the slow release of glucose into the bloodstream promotes that ‘fullness’ feeling. Thus, a reduced need and desire to reach for unnecessary snacks in between meals.
Simple ways to boost your fibre intake is to ensure you consume the skin on all fruits and vegetables and opting for wholegrain varieties of carbohydrates. However, you are recommended to gradually increase your fibre intake as opposed to making lots of changes at once, so your body can adjust.
World Gastroentology Organisation. (2016). Diet and the Gut [online]. Available at: http://www.worldgastroenterology.org/UserFiles/file/WGOHandbookonDietandtheGut_2016_Final.pdf [Accessed: 26th May 2017].
NHS. (2015). Why is fibre important? [online]. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1141.aspx?categoryid=51 [Accessed: 26th May 2017]
Pituch-Zdanowska, A. et al. (2015). The role of dietary fibre in inflammatory bowel disease. Przeglad Gastroenterologiczny. V.10 (3), pp.135-141.