Thursday, 1 May 2014

Why should we increase our fibre intake?

By Gulshinder Johal, British Dietetic Association spokesperson

There was more positive news about fibre this week, with a new study revealing that a fibre-rich diet helps heart attack patients live longer. Why should the fibre we eat make such a difference?

A team of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in America found that patients who ate the most fibre were 25% less likely to die within nine years of having a heart attack than those patients with the lowest fibre intake. Those patients also had a 13% decrease in risk of dying from heart disease.

The study found that every 10g increase in fibre was associated with a 15% decrease in risk of death. With more people surviving heart attacks, looking at the lifestyle of patients and their dietary habits could help improve outcomes.

In this latest study, the authors looked at the different sources of fibre and found that higher cereal fibre consumption was associated with these decreased health risks. 

Possible mechanisms for the effect were lower inflammation in the body, lower levels of the more harmful 'HDL' cholesterol and improved glycaemic control. 

What does fibre do?
High-fibre foods can play a key role in keeping our diets healthy and balanced, while preventing the risks associated with diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. The fibre in some cereals, fruits and beans, known as soluble fibre, binds with cholesterol, preventing its re-absorption by the body thereby improving heart health. It can be found in foods such as cereal products, fruits, vegetables, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds.

So how much should we be eating? 
The NHS says that the UK population consumes approximately 14g fibre per day – well short of the 18g per day target.

Think wholegrain
Eating wholegrains is an easy way to increase dietary fibre because they contain all three parts of the grain – the bran, germ and endosperm – which makes them an excellent source of fibre, as well as iron, magnesium and vitamin E. 

Wholegrain foods include: whole oats, wholegrain breakfast cereals such as Weetabix, Shreddies, wholegrain muesli and Shredded Wheat, wholegrain bread, brown rice, whole wheat, oatmeal, barley, bulgur, and popcorn

Also get into the habit of:
* swapping white foods for brown foods, so choose wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and brown rice over white varieties.
* substituting white flour for brown flour in baking.
* adding lentils, beans or pulses to stews, soups and casseroles.
* checking labels: beware foods that are marketed as high fibre, such as biscuits, flapjacks, cakes and savoury snacks, as some could be very high in fat and sugar.
* having your five daily portions of fruit and vegetables as this alone could provide as much as 20g fibre per day.

One word of caution: increase your intake of fibre gradually, as a sudden rise can lead to bloating and wind!

Any other tips for better heart health?
Remember that fibre is one change of many that could improve our heart health. Looking at our overall lifestyle and addressing low fruit and vegetable intake, high salt consumption, low physical activity levels, oil-rich fish consumption and saturated fat levels will all contribute to optimum heart health.

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