As a Baby Boomer, I’m excited when I see research announcing a specific dietary component that could be responsible for successful aging. We’re all looking for ways to age gracefully, keeping our independence and quality of life as long as possible.
So this 2016 study pointing to the benefits of a high-fiber diet published in the Journal of Gerontology caught my eye recently. The researchers were studying successful aging, defined as “absence of disability, depressive symptoms, cognitive impairment, respiratory symptoms, and chronic diseases (eg, cancer and coronary artery disease).” They followed more than 1,600 adults, aged 49 and over, for 10 years.
Of all the variables they followed, researchers found a high-fiber diet led to the highest chance of “reaching old age disease free and fully functional.”
This paper seemed to support a previous report, published in 2014. These researchers conducted analyses of 17 studies and concluded that for every additional 10 grams of fiber consumed, the risk of death decreased by 10%.
A Quick Primer on Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber, also known as “roughage,” is the part of a plant we humans cannot completely digest and absorb. As a result, it passes through the GI tract relatively intact, and leaves the body.
Dietary fiber is only found in plant products, most notably whole grains, legumes and dried beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables. It is not found in meats of any kind.
There are two types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, found in oats, peas, beans, fruit and barley, dissolves in water. It binds with cholesterol and actually escorts the “bad” variety out of the body, lowering blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart attacks. Soluble fiber also helps lower the risk of diabetes; because it isn’t absorbed, it doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels.
Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of food through your digestive system and adds bulk to the stool, helping relieve constipation. This type of fiber is found in whole wheat, wheat bran, nuts, seeds and some vegetables.
Many plant products contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
High-fiber foods are more filling than low-fiber ones, and aid in losing weight.
How Much Is Enough?
The Institutes of Medicine recommends that men consume 38 grams of dietary fiber per day; the amount for women is 25 grams. Most Americans consume about half that amount, 15 grams per day.
Here are a few guidelines to help you get to your fiber numbers:
• First, read labels. For grain products such as bread, cereal or crackers, you want the first ingredient to contain the word “whole.” So you’re looking for whole wheat or whole grain. Then check on the Nutrition Facts for “Carbohydrates,” and look further down for “Dietary Fiber.” For a food to be considered a good source of dietary fiber, it must contain at least 2.5 grams per serving.
• Second, dried beans and peas are excellent sources of dietary fiber, many containing 10+ grams per cup.
• Third, whole fruits and vegetables with skin are also great sources, especially berries, pears, apples, artichokes and broccoli.
Important note: Ease slowly into a high-fiber diet. Consuming too much of this dietary component too quickly can lead to GI distress such as cramping and gas.
To discover other ways to improve your chances for successful aging, give me a call!
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