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High-Fiber Diet Cuts Death Risk

Study: Fiber From Whole Grains Reduces Risk of Dying From Heart Disease, Infections, and Lung Disease

'Big Surprise' continued...

“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.”

Neil Schachter, MD, professor of pulmonary medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, reviewed the new study for WebMD.

"This is an impressive study, but it's certainly not definitive," he says in an email. "The data suggests that the amount of dietary fiber intake is associated with significantly lower mortality in this initially healthy group [and] both men and women had statistical benefits," he says. "The benefit was primarily seen in diets with grain (not fruits) as the source of fiber." 

Schachter says the study's strengths are its large size and relatively long follow-up period. Its weaknesses include the fact that not all of the potentially relevant information about study participants was known to the researchers, including vaccination history and level of medical care -- all which could play a role in their mortality.

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