Nutrition in the News: Will Fibre Be the New Protein?

For years, protein has been the macro with the most focus on it. But with the current buzz surrounding gut health, could fibre become the new centre of attention?

While protein is widely recognised for its role in muscle growth and repair, fibre and its host of benefits have often been overlooked. This might have somewhat contributed to the ‘fibre crisis’ we’re currently facing, with the current dietary guideline recommending that adults consume at least 30 grams of fibre per day for optimal health. Shockingly, the average British adult isn't even meeting the fibre recommendation for a five year old, with the average adult consuming just 19.8 grams of fibre daily – a shortfall of over 10 grams from the RDA.

There’s no doubt this underappreciated nutrient, with its wide range of health benefits and significant role in supporting the gut microbiome, needs better understanding. Here’s our nutrition team to break down the importance of fibre, along with some practical tips for increasing your intake.

What is fibre?

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies can’t digest with their enzymes. Unlike other carbs that are absorbed in the small intestine, fibre travels through the gut and reaches the large intestine where it’s broken down by gut bacteria. It’s a key part of a balanced diet, and as mentioned, frequently overlooked.

Fibres are often classified based on their physiological effects, with different types having diverse impacts on our bodies. For example, some fibres can affect the rate of nutrient absorption, such as beta-glucan found in oats, while others can influence the gut microbiome. Fibres that bacteria in the large intestine can ferment are called prebiotics. The main products of fermentation are short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that promote gut health and offer various health benefits.

What are the health benefits of fibre?

Helps to keep the digestive system working effectively

Fibre’s most well-known benefit is how it promotes regular bowel movements, adding bulk to stool, and facilitating its smooth passage through the intestines. Usefully, this can help prevent constipation.

Helps to control blood sugar levels

Fibre slows down the absorption of carbohydrates in the digestive tract. This gradual absorption contributes to better glycemic control.

Improves diversity of gut microbiome

Fibre acts as a prebiotic, nourishing beneficial gut bacteria that is essential for digestive health.

Great sources of fibre

When looking to boost fibre intake, many people primarily focus on whole grains, but the options are much more diverse and exciting than what appears at face value. Cereals, whole grains, legumes such as lentils, a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and fortified products, such as soy milk are all excellent sources of fibre.

It’s important to include plenty of fibre at each meal, as many fibrous foods are also packed with vitamins and minerals. As a flag, it’s important to consume plenty of water to get the most out of your high fibre intake as fibre acts like a sponge.

Top tips to include more fibre in your diet

Start your day right

Sprinkle chia seeds and berries on your yogurt or porridge or even try a breakfast burrito with black beans and vegetables.

Clever Swaps

Go for wholemeal or granary bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice over white variations.

Snack smart

On a variety of fruits, such as berries and crunchy vegetable sticks such as carrots with hummus. Rye crackers and oatcakes are great options too.

Nutty goodness

Try out salad toppers such as almonds or pecans. Make your own trail mix with unsalted nuts, dried fruits and seeds.

Clever adds

Sprinkle seeds or nuts on yogurt, salads or even your stir fry. Bulk out your meals with pulses like beans and lentils.

Don’t forget

Leave skin on potatoes and vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Always have a stock of frozen vegetables to add to a meal.

Action on Fibre initiative

As consumers start to seek ways to increase their fibre intake, innovative approaches are emerging. The incorporation of fibres such as chicory root fibre and soluble corn fibres, whilst also reformulating existing products is increasing to cater to the growing consumer interest in gut and digestive health,

The ‘Action on Fibre’ initiative, launched by the Food & drink Federation, aims to address the gap between the current fibre intake levels in the UK and dietary recommendations. It includes multiple pledges aimed at making higher fibre options more appealing and accessible to the general population.

A number of companies are actively working towards increasing fibre content in existing products and launching new ones that are at least a source of fibre. There is also work on educational campaigns focused on raising consumer awareness about fibre intake, highlighting steps towards improving public health through dietary choices.

Final thoughts

The data on fibre consumption is concerning - it’s evident that most people aren’t getting enough. Fibre offers a whole range of benefits, from supporting digestion to enhancing gut diversity, making the 30g daily target important.

At Huel, we recognise the significance of promoting increased daily fibre intake and incorporate excellent sources of fibre in our products. However, Huel is just one piece of the puzzle. We actively encourage a whole variety of ways to increase fibre consumption. From swapping to wholegrains to incorporating nuts and seeds into everyday meals like porridge or yoghurt, there’s a whole list of ways to up your fibre game.

Words: Jessica Stansfield RNutr

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