The F word – why fibre matters - Angie Jefferson Registered Dietitian

Adverts on TV tell us that a healthy and efficient digestive system is essential to our health and well-being. And they’re right: when everything is working properly we barely notice that digestion is taking place, but when things start to go wrong, digestive discomfort can have a major bearing on how we feel, both physically and mentally.

Research by CORE (the medical charity for gut and liver disease) suggests that we are more likely to think about weight (75%), teeth (55%) or sleep (55%) ahead of digestion (41%), and yet more than two out of five of the UK population reported digestive discomfort. The most frequently experienced digestive symptoms in the UK include abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhoea, bloating, flatulence (wind) and constipation. 

You should discuss prolonged symptoms of digestive discomfort with a GP as they may indicate a more serious complaint. However for most of us symptoms could be eased by simple changes to our diets. Increasing fibre and fluid intake are the most effective steps to relieve digestive discomfort.  Foods containing wheat bran can now claim to ‘reduce transit time through the gut’ and ‘increase faecal bulk’ improving digestive health and relieving constipation. Fears of increased bloating and flatulence from eating more fibre are not supported by research which suggests that any initial symptoms pass within two weeks.

Eight out of ten adults in the UK fail to eat enough fibre, but you can find some easy swaps to boost your fibre intake in Table 1. Alternatively look for ‘high fibre’ or ‘bran’ on labels, or check the nutrition panel and choose foods with at least 3g fibre per 100g wherever possible.

Other diet and lifestyle factors that could help to alleviate digestive discomfort include:

  • Having regular meals and taking time to eat
  • Avoiding missing meals or leaving long gaps between eating
  • Increasing water/fluid consumption – drink at least 8 cups of fluid per day
  • Restricting tea, coffee, alcohol and fizzy drinks
  • Being physically active everyday

Table 1 Easy swaps to boost fibre intakes

Instead of


Increase in fibre
 (per portion)

At Breakfast:


Bran flakes


Puffed Rice cereal

Multigrain Puffed Rice


Frosted flakes

Frosted wholewheat cereal


White Toast

50:50 toast


White toast

Wholemeal toast


Glass fruit juice

Glass fruit smoothie


Chocolate chip muffin

Bran muffin


White pasta/spaghetti

Wholemeal pasta/spaghetti


Fruit flavour yoghurt

Chopped fruit with yoghurt


Source: McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods (Fifth Edition). Royal Society of Chemistry, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food plus brand websites e.g. Kelloggs, Kingsmill bread etc  

Wednesday, 15 February, 2012 - 11:51
bowl of wheat