Very few of us are getting enough fibre and it could be harming our health, a major study has found.
The humble plant-based nutrient has been hailed as a potentially lifesaving food in landmark analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization.
Researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand found eating more fibre can significantly cut the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, strokes and early death.
Yet 90% of Britons are not getting the recommended 25g to 29g per day. The NHS suggests more than 30g is even better.
“We need to take serious note of this study, based on a robust analysis,” said Professor Nita Farouhi from the University of Cambridge’s Nutritional Epidemiology programme.
“The onus is on individuals themselves, as well as public agencies, to make it happen, as average fibre intakes remain woefully low at a population level in the UK.”
Known for making you feel fuller, fibre is found in everyday foods like fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, pasta, bread, nuts and pulses.
But experts said the study showed people are finding it tough to get enough, particularly those striving for fashionable low-carbohydrate diets.
“Though increasingly popular in the community at large, any dietary regimes that recommend very low-carbohydrate diets should consider the opportunity cost of missing out on fibre from whole grains,” Prof Farouhi said.
Nutritional professor Dr Elaine Rush from Auckland University of Technology said fibre also helps to lower body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.
“This research presents a substantial body of evidence that we should be eating more whole plants to delay dying and reduce disease,” she said.
Dr Rush said it was “not easy” to increase fibre in the diet but she had put together a guide on how to get enough each day.
Researchers found a 15 to 30% reduction in deaths from all causes for those with a high-fibre diet, while heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes were reduced by up to 24%.
The results mean that for every 1,000 participants, there were 13 fewer deaths and six fewer cases of coronary heart disease for those on fibre-filled diets.