Did you know that eating more might help reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome? Eating more fiber, that is! While it’s well known that fiber can, well, keep things moving along, recent research is showing that it can do much, much more to prevent disease and keep us healthy.
The study findings, authored by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, are published in The American Journal of Medicine.
“…participants in the highest quintile of dietary fiber intake had a statistically significant lower risk of having metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and obesity.”
Researchers used data from 23,168 men and non-pregnant women aged 20 and over who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2010. The study authors examined the link between fiber intake and various cardiometabolic risk factors such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular inflammation and obesity.
“…consumption of dietary fiber was consistently below the recommended total adequate intake levels across survey years.”
Though the recommended intake of fiber is approximately 38g per day for men aged 19-50, and 25g per day for women 19-50, researchers found that average daily fiber intake was only 16.2 g across all groups, far below the daily-recommended amounts.
Variations existed across race and ethnicity. Mexican-Americans had more fiber in their diet, consuming 18.8g per day versus the 16.3g consumed by non-Hispanic whites and 13.1g consumed by non-Hispanic blacks.
When researchers measured fiber intake against cardiometabolic risks, analysis revealed that increased dietary fiber in the diet was clearly associated with decreased prevalence of metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and obesity. Men and women with the highest prevalence of metabolic syndrome, inflammation and obesity were in the bottom 20% (“lowest quintile”) in terms of dietary fiber intake.
Lead study author Dr. Cheryl R. Clark, of the Center for Community Health and Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, writes that there is a need for more data “to shape recommendations for dietary fiber intake as a preventive strategy to reduce associated cardiometabolic risks [and] additional nutritional policies may be needed to increase adequate consumption of dietary fiber, in order to reduce cardiometabolic risk factors in diverse US populations.”
The Bottom Line
Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in this country. By making changes to your diet and lifestyle, your risk for developing this disease can be greatly reduced. One of the easiest ways of reducing your risk is by incorporating more fiber into your diet.
Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber play a role in reducing cardiometabolic risk. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, passes through the intestines largely intact, and is what moves food and waste through our system and keeps us “regular.” Soluble fiber is not digested but becomes a gel-like substance that expands when mixed with water. It helps with weight-control by making us feel full, helps regulate blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, and can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by hindering the absorption of dietary cholesterol.
So which foods are high in fiber? Insoluble fiber can be found in whole grains and vegetables such as whole wheat, wheat and corn bran, seeds, nuts, barley, couscous, brown rice, celery, cabbage, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, fruit, and root vegetable skins.
Soluble fiber is found in foods like oatmeal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots. An added benefit? Many of these foods double as a great source of potent compounds that help reduce silent inflammation in the body, a condition believed to contribute to many chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and even aging.
You can also take a fiber supplement. We recommend taking ground flax seed, as it’s a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber – a much better source than products like Metamucil, which are highly processed.
Another advantage of increasing fiber intake, provided you drink enough water, is that it will help with bowel function and transit time. The top cause of digestive complaints is constipation, and this is due to that lack of fiber (see our Guidelines here). And since fiber is often used in weight loss programs to help create a sense of satiety (curbs the appetite), by adding more fiber to your diet, you’ll not only lower your odds of developing cardiovascular disease but also help manage your weight and reduce your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.
So fill up on fiber, and get things going in more ways than one!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.