Chances are you’ve heard many people sing the praises of dietary fiber (cue: angels choir). Years of research have shown that fiber can lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve weight control, maintain digestive regularity, help diabetics manage blood sugar and help prevent chronic illness. What more could you need from a calorie-free, naturally occuring nutrient? How about a longer life? The NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study found just that.
More than 350,000 healthy participants, who did not have chronic disease or smoke tobacco, answered a self-administered questionnaire that analyzed fiber intake. Nine years later, the researchers compared the data of those who had died during that time to those who had not. They found that men and women who had died consumed much less fiber than those who were still living at the end of the study. More specifically, they found a significantly lower risk of death associated with cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases (which tend to be associated with obesity and/or heart disease) and infectious diseases. In men, they also found a significant lower risk of death from cancer.
It is important to note that the researchers did not account for any other foods consumed by participants or whether or not they exercised. So, we can’t tell if the fiber is 100 percent responsible for the lower risk of death in this study. Especially since high-fiber foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, also contain large amounts of disease-fighting vitamins, minerals and plant-based phytonutrients. However, as we previously reported, the benefits of fiber make it a key component of any healthy diet, so the result shouldn’t be discounted. According to the Institute of Medicine, adult males need about 38 grams of fiber on a daily basis, while women need about 25 grams.
The researchers in the NIH-AARP study suggest that fiber from whole grains may be even more beneficial than any other source, so be sure to check out our “Whole Grain Crash-Course” to diversify your grains. Happy eating!