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Pregnancy nutrients: fibre

Fibre Smooth operator

SUMMARY

Fibre is an important part of a healthy pregnancy diet, yet many women aren’t getting enough1. Learn how this plant-based substance helps to keep you regular at a time when you’re more susceptible to constipation, and which high-fibre foods to eat for a healthy supply.

The facts about fibre

Well-known for its role in keeping the digestive system running smoothly, fibre is an important part of a healthy pregnancy diet.

Found in plant-based foods, fibre is the part of the plant that the body can’t digest. By moving through the body, rather than being absorbed, it helps other waste to pass through more efficiently.

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble.

Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and does not break down in the body. Instead, it passes through your system, absorbing water along the way and helping other foods move through.

Soluble fibre can also absorb water, making stools softer and easier to pass. It has the added benefit of binding with cholesterol, lowering your levels and helping to reduce your risk of heart problems.

Many foods contain both types of fibre – you’re probably eating some high-fibre foods without even thinking about it.

Which type of bread contains more fibre?

granary bread
Brown bread

Reducing common pregnancy discomforts

Constipation is a common pregnancy complaint but is less likely if you eat a diet rich in fibre.

A sluggish system is partly due to your increased levels of progesterone during pregnancy. A natural muscle relaxant, it makes the bowel muscles less effective, so waste stays in the large intestine for longer. The body then reabsorbs water from the stools, making them firmer and harder to pass2.

It can also be a result of you not drinking enough water2 to meet your increased fluid needs3.

Although constipation is thought of as a mild discomfort, left without treatment it can lead to piles (haemorrhoids), which can become painful and sore4. If you do get piles, your healthcare professional can suggest a cream or ointment to relieve the symptoms.

The best way to minimise these uncomfortable conditions is to include several sources of fibre in your diet each day, drink plenty of fluids and stay active.

Dried fruit has a higher fibre content than many fresh fruit and vegetables.

A healthy fibre intake

A National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) found that 87% of the UK population aren’t eating their recommended 18g of fibre per day4.

If you think you may not be getting enough fibre, some simple changes can increase your intake.

Key sources of fibre1:

  • Bran and wholemeal wheat flour – the main ingredients of many breakfast cereals and bread
  • Oats – eat porridge for a fibre-rich start to the day
  • Brown rice – opt for this high-fibre version over white varieties
  • Root vegetables – carrots and potatoes are good sources
  • Dried fruit – including apricots and figs

Pick high-fibre foods from this table to increase your daily intake:

 
 

Next Steps

Increase your fibre intake by:

  • Choosing wholegrain versions of foods such as bread, pasta, cereals and rice
  • Adding extra vegetables to your sauces, curries and casseroles, or including them as an extra side serving
  • Eating raw fruit and vegetables as snacks between meals
  • Leaving the skins on your fruit and vegetables when possible
  • Adding a handful of nuts to cereal, or sprinkling pumpkin seeds on salads

View references

Hide references

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1. NHS UK. Why is fibre important? [Online]. 2013. Available at: www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1141.aspx?CategoryID=51&SubCategoryID=167 [Accessed June 2014]

2. NHS UK. Constipation – causes [Online]. 2014. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Constipation/Pages/Causes.aspx [Accessed June 2014]

3. Agostoni CV et al. Scientific opinion on dietary reference values for water. EFSA journal 2010;8(3)1459.

4. NHS UK. Piles in pregnancy [Online]. 2013. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/piles-haemorrhoids-pregnant.aspx [Accessed June 2014]

5. Bates B et al. National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Headline results from Years 1 and 2 (combined) of the rolling programme 2008. Vol. 10. 9–2009, 2011.

6. McCance and Widdowson. Composite of foods integrated dataset [Online]. 2002. Available at: http://tna.europarchive.org/20110116113217/http://www.food.gov.uk/science/dietarysurveys/dietsurveys/ [Accessed June 2014]

7. Gov.UK. Nutrient Analysis of Fruit and Vegetables: Summary Report [Online]. 2013. www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/167942/Nutrient_analysis_of_fruit_and_vegetables_-_Summary_Report.pdf [Accessed June 2014]

Last reviewed: 18th August 2014
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