Fibre – the latest “superfood”

Fibre – yes I know, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world but a major study has been investigating how much fibre we really need to be eating and has found there are huge health benefits when we eat more.

  • It reduces the chances of debilitating heart attacks and strokes as well as life-long diseases such as type-2 diabetes.
  • It helps keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.
  • It’s cheap and widely available in the supermarket.
  • It makes us feel fuller and can help digestion and prevent constipation.

The researchers for this study, based at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, and the University of Dundee say people should be eating a minimum of 25g of fibre per day. “The evidence is now overwhelming and this is a game-changer that people have to start doing something about it,” one of the researchers, Professor John Cummings, has told BBC News.

The NHS recommends we should increase our fibre intake to 30g a day as part of a healthy balanced diet. So what does 30g of fibre actually mean?

To increase your fibre intake you could:

  • Choose a higher-fibre breakfast cereal such as plain wholewheat biscuits (like Weetabix) or plain shredded whole grain (like Shredded wheat), or porridge as oats are also a good source of fibre.
  • Go for wholemeal or granary breads, or higher fibre white bread, and choose wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
  • Go for potatoes with their skins on, such as a baked potato or boiled new potatoes.
  • Add pulses and legumes such as beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, soups, curries and salads.
  • Include plenty of vegetables with meals, either as a side dish or added to sauces, stews or curries.
  • Have some fresh or dried fruit, or fruit canned in natural juice for dessert. Because dried fruit is sticky, it can increase the risk of tooth decay, so it’s better if it is only eaten as part of a meal, rather than as a between-meal snack.
  • For snacks, try fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes and unsalted nuts or seeds.

Did you know? A small handful of nuts can have up to 3g of fibre. Always choose unsalted nuts, such as plain almonds, without any added sugars.

Find out more:

EGGS: Nature’s most nutrient-dense food

“But eggs contain cholesterol!” I hear you cry, “And doesn’t high cholesterol cause heart disease?” Well, although eggs do contain cholesterol, the amount of saturated fat we eat has more effect on the amount of cholesterol in our blood than the cholesterol we get from eating eggs.

Eggs are one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods and contain an ideal mixture of nutrients. Along with high quality protein, eggs are also naturally rich in vitamin D, B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B12, iodine, selenium and other essential dietary vitamins and minerals.

SO WHAT HAS CHANGED?
Previous limits on egg consumption have been lifted as it is now known that the cholesterol they contain does not have a significant effect on blood cholesterol.

A high level of blood cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. It was originally thought that eating cholesterol-rich foods was an important cause of high blood cholesterol levels and therefore increased heart disease risk.  In the past it was thought that people should limit the number of eggs they eat because they contain cholesterol. However, only around a third of the cholesterol in the body comes from the diet – our bodies make the rest. It is now accepted that the amount of saturated fat that we eat has a much greater effect on our blood cholesterol levels than cholesterol in the diet.

Recommendations on limiting egg consumption have now been relaxed by all major UK heart and health advisory groups, including the British Heart Foundation and the Department of Health.

This means that most people can eat eggs without adversely affecting their blood cholesterol levels, provided that they are eaten as part of a healthy diet that is relatively low in saturated fat.

The healthiest ways to cook eggs

Boil or poach eggs (preferably without adding salt) rather than frying and avoid adding butter to scrambled eggs. Frying eggs can increase their fat content by as much as 50%.

Find out how easy it is to cook the perfect poached eggs with Jamie Oliver:

Eggs and fitness

Whenever we do any form of exercise we gain muscle – how much depends on the intensity and frequency of exercise. The more muscle mass your body has, the more calories you burn, even when resting. To build muscle mass efficiently the correct nutrients must be consumed – this is where the introduction of nutrient-dense foods such as eggs to your diet can have huge benefits.

One of the main substances our muscles need to repair and grow is protein. High in protein, eggs are an ideal choice for post-workout nutrition. Plus, in addition to their high protein levels, eggs contain all eight essential amino acids that are required for prime muscle recovery.

You can find out more information about the many benefits of eggs from the British Egg Information Service (see below).

Thanks to:

Super Clean Super Foods

This is my ultimate go-to nutritional guide to superfoods, telling you all you need to know to power up your plate! Keeping active and eating a super food packed balanced diet maximises your chances of achieving a healthy body. Try to build a varied diet from wholesome nutritious foods from each of these five key groups:

1. Fruit and vegetables

Try and eat at least three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit each day. Research shows that people who eat a diet based on plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables tend to have a lower incidence of age related diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, dementia and cataracts. Fruit and vegetables contain a powerful arsenal of disease-fighting compounds including vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals. No single fruit or vegetable contains all the nutrients you need so it’s important to include a wide variety.

Citrus fruits are rich in immune boosting vitamin C.
  • Nitrates in beetroot improve the blood flow to your brain
  • Vitamins and phytochemicals in raspberries help protect your eyes
  • Tenderstem broccoli contains cancer-fighting phytochemicals
Vitamins and phytochemicals in raspberries help to protect your eyes.

2. Starchy carbohydrates

These come in many different guises and many of the carbohydrates we choose have been stripped of much of their fibre and nutrients. Refining wheat to produce white flour removes over half of the B vitamins, 90% of the vitamin E and almost all the fibre content. Choose unrefined carbohydrates such as wholegrains, beans and pulses, and aim to eat three portions of these every day.

Choose wholegrains instead of refined carbohydrates
  • A type of fibre found in barley called beta-glucan helps to reduce “bad”  cholesterol (LDL – low density lipoprotein).

3. Calcium-rich foods

Calcium is essential for building strong bones and teeth and is particularly important whilst bones are still growing. Aim for at least two portions of calcium each day – milk, yoghurt and dairy products are a good source of calcium as well as providing additional nutrients such as vitamins A and B2.

Dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium.

If you don’t eat dairy foods then try almonds, fortified soya or nut milk, sesame seeds, kale, broccoli and bak choy.

Broccoli contains phytochemicals and is also a good source of calcium.

4. Healthy proteins

Protein should ideally provide 15-20% of your calorie intake each day. Protein is an essential nutrient, responsible for multiple functions in your body, including building tissue, cells and muscle, as well as making hormones and anti-bodies. Choose healthier proteins such as oily fish, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds – in addition to the protein, they also contain other health promoting nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

Black beans are packed with protein and gut-healthy fibre.
  • Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines are rich in omega-3 and help power your brain

5. Healthy fats

Fat is essential for your health, but most of us consume far too much of it, and the wrong sort. Eat no more than 30% of your calories each day from fat, including no more than 11% from saturated fat. Wherever possible, avoid saturated fats and trans-fats as these increase levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood. Instead opt for unsaturated fats such as olive oil and foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish.

Avocados, oily fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds are all healthy fats.

A note about Reference Intakes (RI)

Nutritional needs vary depending on sex, size, age and activity levels so use this chart as a general guide only. The chart shows the Reference Intakes (RI) or daily amounts recommended for an average, moderately active adult to achieve a healthy, balanced diet for maintaining rather than losing or gaining weight.

The RIs for fat, saturates, sugars and salt are all maximum amounts, while those for carbs and protein are figures you should aim to meet each day. There is no RI for fibre, although health experts suggest we have 30g a day.

My thanks to Super Clean Super Foods by Fiona Hunter & Caroline Bretherton.