Fibre is key to a healthy gut and a healthy microbiome. It’s not sexy I know but it’s true. It is a superhero of health. 

Over the years – protein, fats and carbohydrates have all been either public enemy number one or the panacea for everything.  Fibre seems to be so boring it gets ignored yet this is the superfood among superfoods – it is powerful and simple and the secret sauce for restoring health to your gut and because of that your overall health.

What is fibre? 

Technically it is a part of the structure of a plant. Nutritionally, it is a term that is used for complex carbohydrates which because of their complex structure (think about a time when you have got a necklace all caught up and twisted) takes time to unravel and break into tiny pieces. In fibre’s case, it doesn’t break down at all and, unlike other carbohydrates (such as sugars and starch)  it is pretty much the same structure as it was when you put it in your mouth.  Generally we have a number of enzymes that help us to break down complex carbohydrates but none of them break down fibre.  

Instead we have clever gut bacteria that have tons of enzymes to break down complex carbohydrates and fibre – about 60,000 of them Every source of fibre (or plant) will have its own gut bacteria with its own specialised enzymes to break down that plant.  

This means our gut bacteria are important and also means we are designed to eat lots of plants.  So what?  I hear you cry. I will tell you why shortly. 

Types of fibre

You may have heard of the terms ‘soluble fibre’ or ‘insoluble fibre’– these are words that are sometimes used to describe the types of fibre in our diet. Although scientific organisations argue that these terms are no longer really appropriate, you will still see them used. 

What is important to remember is that fibre-rich foods typically contain both types of fibre.

  • Soluble fibre – dissolves in water. Most soluble fibre is also pre-biotic (fuel for our gut bacteria). Includes pectins and beta-glucans (found for example in foods like fruit and oats
  • Insoluble fibre – doesn’t dissolve and is basically a broom for the butt.  Includes cellulose (found for example in wholegrains and nuts)
  • Resistant starch – doesn’t change at all in structure and is also an important prebiotic food. Includes oats, cooked cold potatoes, cooked cold rice, legumes.
  • Polyphenols – antioxidant compounds found in certain plants that are transformed by our gut bacteria into health promoting substances this includes many colurful fruit and veg, green tea, cocoa, 

Where do we get fibre from?

  • Wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain bread and oats, barley and rye
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables (keep skin on when you can e.g. potatoes)
  • Legumes (peas, beans and pulses)
  • Nuts and seeds

Does fibre benefit our health?

Short answer is HELL YES! 

Long answer: 

  1. Fibre helps to keep our digestive system healthy and helps to prevent constipation. For example, fibre bulks up stools, makes stools softer and easier to pass and makes waste move through the digestive tract more quickly.
  2. The European Food Safety Authority suggests that including fibre rich foods in a healthy balanced diet can improve weight maintenance.
  3. Fibre can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) and type 2 diabetes). Foods such as oats and barley contain a type of fibre known as beta-glucan, which may help to reduce cholesterol levels if you consume 3g or more of it daily.
  4. People with IBS are usually well aware that diet can play an important part in controlling symptoms, and are often advised to modify the amount of fibre in their diet. For example, the British Dietetic Association recommend that if symptoms include constipation then gradually increasing fibre intake may help, particularly wholegrains, oats, fruit, vegetables and linseeds as these may help to soften stools and make them easier to pass. If symptoms include diarrhoea it might be better to reduce your intake of some high fibre food such as wholegrain breakfast cereals and breads (of course depending on the reason behnd the diarrhoea). 
  5. Fibre may help to protect against colorectal cancer (bowel cancer).  Did you know that the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) estimate that 45% of bowel cancer could be prevented through diet, physical activity and weight? The reasons why fibre protects from colon cancer are not fully understood – this may be because fibre increases stool size, dilutes content and moves it faster through the gut so the amount of time waste products stay in contact with the bowel is reduced. Some types of fibre may also help gut bacteria produce helpful chemicals that can have beneficial effects on the bowel. 
  6. Research has increasingly shown how important the bacteria in our gut may be to our health, and it has been suggested that a fibre rich diet can help increase the good bacteria in the gut. Some fibre types provide a food source for ‘friendly’ gut bacteria helping them to increase and produce substances which are thought to be protective such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Short chain fatty acids sound as dull as dishwashing water but they are actually truly miraculous substances.  There are 3 types of SCFA – acetate, propionate and butyrate (I’ll discuss them another time) but just know that for now they are fundamental to full body, rocket fuelled health and wellbeing. 

How much fibre do we need?

In 2015 the  UK government published new guidelines with a recommendation that the population’s fibre intake should increase to 30g a day for adults (aged 17 years and over). On average, we consume much less than this – about 18 -20g per day. Children also need to increase their intake of fibre. Recommended intakes of fibre are shown below.

Age (years)          Recommended intake of fibre

2-5years                        15g per day

5-11 years                      20g per day

11-16 years                    25g per day

17 and over                   30g per day

Currently in NZ, women are recommended to consume 28g and men 38g but nutrition experts support the UK recommendations. 


To increase your fibre intake you could:

  • Choose a high fibre breakfast cereal e.g. wholegrain cereal like wholewheat biscuit cereal, no added sugar muesli, bran flakes or porridge. Why not add some fresh fruit, dried fruit, seeds and/or nuts.
  • Go for wholemeal or seeded wholegrain breads. If your family only typically likes white bread, why not try the versions that combine white and wholemeal flours as a start.
  • Choose wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
  • Go for potatoes with skins e.g. baked potato, wedges or boiled new potatoes – you can eat these hot or use for a salad.
  • For snacks try fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes, unsalted nuts or seeds.
  • Include plenty of vegetables with meals – either as a side dish/salad or added to sauces, stews or curries – this is a good way of getting children to eat more veg.
  • Keep a supply of frozen vegetables so you are never without.
  • Add pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries and salads.
  • Have some fresh or fruit canned in natural juice (rinsed and drained) for pudding or a snack.

If you need to increase your fibre intake, it is a good idea to so gradually. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids (around 6-8 glasses per day for adults) and to try to be active for at least 150 minutes per week

A healthy, balanced diet can provide enough fibre – especially if you eat at least  ‘5 A DAY’ and choose wholegrain foods and potatoes in skins. 

 A 7 day meal planner that meets fibre recommendations can be found here:


What does 30g of fibre look like?

Fibre is also not all the same. So that 30g needs to be from a variety of sources. 

Because there are hundreds of different fibre sources, 1g of one source is not the same as 1g of another source. It is better to focus on the diversity of plants in your diet and eat 8-9 serves  (or at the bare minimum 5) of plant sources a day. 




Fibre content (g)


Bran flakes

1 sliced banana






1 apple




Baked Beans

2 slices wholemeal toast






Baked potato with skin and tuna & mayonnaise filling

Salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber)






Plain Yoghurt


Chopped almonds







Total Fibre




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