A high intake of dietary fiber is associated with a wide array of health benefits, including a reduced mortality rate, according to a massive systematic review and meta-analysis in the Lancetearlier this year.
Researchers analyzed data from 59 clinical trials and 185 observational studies from around the world and found that people who consumed the most fiber (at least 25 to 30 grams a day) had a 15 to 30 percent lower death rate and incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and colorectal cancer than people who ate the least fiber (less than about 15 grams a day). High fiber intake was also linked to lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight. Similar benefits were seen for higher intakes of whole grains, which are rich in fiber.
The average American consumes about 15 grams of fiber a day. To boost your intake, take these three steps:
1. Focus on high-fiber plant foods-vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. These are the “good” carbohydrates-nutritious, filling, and relatively low in calories. They should supply the roughly 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber you need each day. Among other benefits, fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates, so they have less effect on insulin and blood sugar. High-fiber foods also supply important vitamins, minerals, and potentially beneficial phytochemicals (plant chemicals).
2. In particular, eat lots of produce.Aim for 2 and a half cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day. That’s based on a daily 2,000-calorie diet. If you consume more calories, aim for more produce. Include green, orange, red, blue/purple, and yellow vegetables and fruits-such as broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, berries, and citrus fruits. In addition to the fiber, the nutrients and phytochemicals in these foods may help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases. Legumes, rich in fiber, can count as vegetables (though they have more calories than most vegetables). Choose whole fruits over juice for more fiber. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are good options (but watch out for added sugar and salt).
3. Eat more whole grains.At least half your grains should be whole grains (such as whole wheat and oats). Servings are small-a slice of whole-wheat bread, for instance, or a half-cup of cooked oatmeal or brown rice. Voluntary seals from the Whole Grains Council, found on some packages, can help you identify good sources. Keep in mind that many grain products that don’t carry a seal may still be excellent choices.