Fibre, fibre everywhere, but not enough to eat

As a general rule, I am quite open to doing things that will make me healthier; if there is a reasonable amount of evidence that something will make me live longer, I’m certainly going to consider it. Obviously, I don’t jump on every bandwagon out there (some are too expensive, some don’t really have enough evidence behind them, some I tried and just didn’t get on with), but some things have stuck. I have, for example, decided that there is enough evidence now against red and processed meats that I have severely limited them in my diet; this is the sort of dietary advice I quite like… not doing/eating something is usually a lot cheaper than doing/eating something new.

However, occasionally advice comes out that is medically sound (as far as I can tell), but ultimately not that helpful. There is an old maxim that you should “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and sup like a pauper”, which I believe is reasonable dietary advice; a nice big meal sets you up for the day and you shouldn’t eat too much just before bed. However, this advice is not really that useful to the average person, who wants a quick breakfast before work and has their main meal in the evening, when they have time to cook and enjoy it. I am also amused by the instructions on certain medications that say they should be taken as evenly spaced as possible through the day… with meals. Good advice I’m sure, but my meals aren’t evenly spaced through the day, so one of those instructions isn’t going to be followed.

The particular medical advice that prompted this post was spotted in a doctors’ surgery, while I was waiting to be seen with my son (who, as all parents will have experienced at some point, was running round as if there was nothing wrong with him). I was looking at a poster on cancer prevention, which showed all the usual suspects (smoking is a contributing factor to most cancers, with weight and drinking close behind), but had a rather unique set of risk factors for bowel cancer, the top two being eating a lot of red meat and not getting enough fibre in your diet. The poster recommended 25g of fibre a day and a bit of Googling shows up a lot of medical advice recommending 25g-30g a day. Probably excellent advice, but – and here’s the snag – that is an seriously large amount of fibre.

As it happens, I have a fairly high fibre diet already, so I took a look to see whether I hit the target. On a week day, I have All Bran with a sprinkle of cinnamon for breakfast, peanut butter on wholegrain bread for lunch, dried apricots and a banana for snacks. These are all high fibre foods and they total about 23g of fibre; my evening meals needs to have at least one reasonably fibrous item, just to reach the lower threshold of what is recommended… and I have to do this every single day. Any substitutions (especially dropping the All Bran) and I’m pretty much guaranteed to fall short; at the weekends, I’m probably lucky to get 10g of fibre in a day.

So, what are my conclusions. Well, I have two of them:
1) I’m sure that 25g-30g of fibre a day is good for you and probably lowers your chance of bowel cancer.
2) I’m equally sure that 25g-30g is pretty much impossible to achieve every single day… and that the stress of trying to do so probably increases your chance of everything else.

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