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'Big Surprise'

“What is new and important about this study is that it examined multiple causes of death [while] most previous studies of fiber and mortality focused only on heart attack and stroke,” says Lawrence de Koning, PhD, a postdoctoral and clinical chemistry fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. De Koning co-authored an editorial that accompanies the new study.

“The most interesting result was that dietary fiber was protective for respiratory disease and infections,” he tells WebMD in an email. “This was a big surprise. It was even more surprising that the effect appeared larger than for heart attack and stroke.”

"Eating more fiber, particularly fiber from grains, may be related to reduced risk of dying from many different types of diseases -- not just cardiovascular disease,” he says.

The new U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that at least half of all grains consumed be whole and unrefined. The refining process removes all the bran, which contains the fiber. The goal for fiber is 25 grams per day for women 28 grams per day for men, and as it stands, most of us fall short.

Boost Fiber Now: Here’s How

So how can you get more fiber in your diet?

“The easiest way to accomplish this would be to always choose 'whole grain' breads, cereals, and baked goods over 'white' or refined varieties,” De Koning says. Specifically, breads that list "100% whole wheat flour" as the first ingredient would be a good choice over ones that list “wheat flour" as the first ingredient, as this is likely refined white flour, he says.

“Another nice way to increase cereal fiber would be to eat cooked cereals such as steel cut oats at breakfast instead of cold ones,” he says.

The new study did not look at fiber supplements. “But it is unlikely that simply taking a fiber supplement would give the same benefit of as eating whole grains,” he says. “Whole grains are high in many health-promoting compounds that might not be present in a commercially produced fiber supplement. Some of these include antioxidants, which may help to prevent a runaway inflammatory response. It is this runaway inflammation that may be responsible for high mortality due to respiratory and infectious diseases.”

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