Is a High-Fiber Diet the secret to a healthier life?

A new comprehensive study of whole grains and fiber is highlighting their role in preventing chronic disease.   The article published in The Lancet compiled information from over 240 high-quality studies to reveal the big-picture message that high fiber intake can make a massive impact on your long term health:

  • People who consumed the most fiber had 15-30% lower odds of developing Type 2 Diabetes, colorectal cancer, or cardiovascular disease compared to those who ate very little fiber
  • High fiber intake was also tied to lower body weights, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease (as well as components of metabolic syndrome)
  • Consuming 25-29 grams of fiber daily seems to be the target range for protective effects
  • High intake of whole grains had similar findings: the more you eat, the lower your risk of developing these chronic diseases
  • The study did look into high or low glycemic index but little to no relationship between glycemic score and risk reduction

Carbohydrates tend to get such a bad rep when people talk about healthy diets, but it’s what we do to carbohydrates in our our food system that causes an issue: we overprocess everything. With carbohydrates, the food industry strips away a lot of the fiber and nutrients that inherently make carbohydrates nutritious; we strip grains down to make white flour, press the sweet juice out of fruit and discard the rest, and add refined sugars to everything.

This study proves that actively choosing whole grain, high-fiber foods is worth the effort, though!  On a physiological level, this makes sense to me as a nutrition scientist. Complex carbohydrates and fibers in your food serve a lot of purposes that add up to health benefits:

  • Add bulk to your food so you eat large volumes but fewer calories
  • Slow down digestive transit time to keep you full longer
  • Breakdown and get absorbed more slowly, leading to less dramatic blood sugar spikes
  • Bind to cholesterol in your gastrointestinal tract and eliminate it
  • May resist breakdown altogether and wind up feeding the good bacteria in your colon

Here are the swaps you need to know to follow a higher fiber diet:

  1. Eat More Vegetables: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, artichokes, sweet potatoes, collard greens, beets, carrots, zucchini, radishes, squash, tomatoes, parsnips, celery, onions, peppers…
  2. Eat More Whole Fruits: Berries, apples, pears, oranges, plums, dried figs, apricots, peaches, pineapple, kiwi, bananas, avocado (technically a fruit!)
  3. Eat More Legumes and Beans: Green peas, chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans, lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, fava beans, soybeans
  4. Eat More Nuts and Seeds: Walnuts, pistachios, almonds, pecans, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
  5. Eat More Whole Grains: Oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, corn, farro, whole grain cereals, whole grain crackers, whole grain breads, whole grain pastas (note- for any processed whole grain products, look for 100% whole grains at the top of the ingredient list)
  6. Eat Fewer Processed Carbohydrates: Fruit juices, candies, chips, snacks and foods made from refined white flour, sugary drinks

 

Adding fiber to your daily meal plan is a fantastic way to improve not only the overall quality of your diet but also control your blood sugar response to carbohydrates, which is a must-do for anyone with diabetes, insulin resistance, PCOS, or metabolic syndrome.   The USDA recommends that adult women aim for about 25 grams of fiber daily (21 once over age 50) and that men consume 38 grams daily (30 grams over age 50).  If you focus on swapping out refined carbohydrates for the more complex, high-fiber choices listed above, you can hit that target day after day.

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