Why is fibre important?

Fibre is an important part of a healthy diet. A diet high in fibre has many health benefits. It can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and can also improve digestive health.

However, many people don't get enough fibre. On average, most people in the UK get about 14g of fibre a day. You should aim for at least 18g a day.

Fibre is only found in foods that come from plants. Foods such as meat, fish and dairy products don't contain any fibre.

There are two different types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Each type of fibre helps your body in different ways, so a normal, healthy diet should include both types.

However, if you have a digestive disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may need to modify the type and amount of fibre in your diet in accordance with your symptoms. Your GP or a dietitian will be able to advise you further about this.

Soluble fibre

Soluble fibre can be digested by your body. It may help reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. If you have constipation, gradually increasing sources of soluble fibre – such as fruit and vegetables, oats and golden linseeds – can help soften your stools and make them easier to pass.

Foods that contain soluble fibre include:

  • oats, barley and rye
  • fruit, such as bananas and apples
  • root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes
  • golden linseeds

Insoluble fibre

Insoluble fibre can't be digested. It passes through your gut without being broken down and helps other foods move through your digestive system more easily. Insoluble fibre keeps your bowels healthy and helps prevent digestive problems. If you have diarrhoea, you should limit the amount of insoluble fibre in your diet.

Good sources of insoluble fibre include:

  • wholemeal bread
  • bran
  • cereals
  • nuts and seeds (except golden linseeds)

Eating foods high in fibre will help you feel fuller for longer. This may help if you are trying to lose weight (also see the weight loss guide).

If you need to increase your fibre intake, it's important that you do so gradually. A sudden increase may make you produce more wind (flatulence), leave you feeling bloated and cause stomach cramps.

It's also important to make sure you drink plenty of fluid. You should drink approximately 1.2 litres (six to eight glasses) of fluid a day, or more while exercising or when it's hot.

Further information: 

Page last reviewed: 08/03/2013

Next review due: 07/03/2015