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Fibre


Expert reviewer Mr Paul McArdle, Registered Dietitian
Next review due May 2023

Fibre is the part of plant-based foods which can’t be broken down by your body. It passes through your body undigested, and yet is an essential part of a healthy diet. You may know it by the older name, ‘roughage’.

Here we explain why you need fibre, and give you some tips for getting more of it into your diet.

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What is fibre?

Fibre is the name given to a group of complex (often large) carbohydrates that are found in all types of plant-based foods. These include fruit, vegetables, pulses and grains (eg, wholemeal bread and cereals). Fibre doesn't get broken down and absorbed in your small bowel like other types of food. Instead, it passes undigested into your large bowel.

Fibre helps to keep your digestive system in good working order, and has many other important health benefits. See our section on Health benefits of fibre below for more information about these. Many of us aren't getting enough fibre in our diets.

Image showing the digestive system

You might sometimes hear fibre referred to as two different types – soluble and insoluble. In the past, soluble fibre was generally thought to have more effect in your small bowel, and insoluble fibre in your large bowel. However, this picture is no longer so clear cut, so these terms are being phased out. The important thing to remember is that, for our health, we should eat a variety of different fibre-containing foods.

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What are the health benefits of fibre?

Fibre is important for your digestive health. It helps to bulk up the poo in your large bowel and move it along your digestive tract more quickly, helping to prevent constipation. Fibre also makes your poo softer, which helps with this process.

There's also good evidence that fibre can help to reduce your risk of the following serious diseases:

How much fibre do we need?

It's recommended that adults should have 30g of fibre a day. Children need less than this and the following daily amounts are recommended.

  • Age two to five years: 15g a day.
  • Age five to 11 years: 20g a day.
  • Age 11 to 16 years: 25g a day.
  • Age 16 to 18 years: 30g a day.
  • Adults (18 years and over): 30g a day.

Many people are currently eating much less than the recommended amount of fibre. Eating a healthy, balanced diet, including plenty of wholegrain, starchy foods and fruit and vegetables can help you to get enough fibre.

Good sources of fibre

Foods which provide the best sources of fibre include:

  • wholemeal and wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta
  • peas, beans and lentils
  • fruit and vegetables
  • dried fruit
  • nuts and seeds

The infographic (0.35 MB) below gives a few examples of the amount of fibre in certain foods.

A table showing the fibre content in different food groups

How can I include more fibre in my diet?

  • Choose wholegrain foods, such as bread, cereals and pasta rather than white or refined starchy foods. Wholegrain foods contain more fibre.
  • Add fruit to your breakfast cereal or to plain yoghurt. This will help you to reach your five-a-day target, as well as up your fibre intake.
  • Add beans and extra veg to dishes, such as curries, soups, stews and chilli.
  • Go for chopped-up veg, fruit, dried fruit or nuts and seeds for snacks between meals.
  • Check food labels when you're shopping to see which products are high in fibre. ‘High fibre’ foods have at least 6g of fibre per 100g.

If you don't currently eat enough fibre and need to up your fibre intake, it's best to do it gradually, to allow your gut to adjust. Increasing it too quickly may cause symptoms such as bloating and gas. It's a good idea to make sure you're drinking enough fluids too.



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Related information

    • Macronutrients and energy balance. Oxford Handbook of Nutrition and Dietetics (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published January 2012, updated December 2015
    • Fibre: Food fact sheet. BDA, The Association of UK Dietitians. bda.uk.com, published September 2016
    • Dietary fibre. British Nutrition Foundation. nutrition.org.uk, accessed April 2020
    • Fibre fact sheet. British Nutrition Foundation, 2015. nutrition.org.uk
    • Carbohydrates and health. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), 2015. www.gov.uk
  • Reviewed by Dr Kristina Routh, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, May 2020
    Expert reviewer, Mr Paul McArdle, Registered Dietitian
    Next review due May 2023

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