While everyone is aware that fiber is good for us, I think few actually understand just how powerful it can be. Fewer still understand the types of fiber and actively plan fiber intake as part of our diets.
First, a primer on fiber.
In general, there are two types. Insoluble fiber is the “roughage” that your mom told you to eat more of. This is the stuff that does not get digested at all, but makes it intact into the sewage system. It can act as a sponge for toxins in the gut as well as keeping “things” moving along. Whole grains and vegetables are great sources.
Soluble fiber, which our digestive system cannot break down, does get further broken down by the bacteria in our gut, leading to compounds known as short chain fatty acids, the most important of which is butyrate. Butyrate is a tonic for the cells of the intestinal tract, leaving them healthier and lowering the risk of cancer and autoimmune conditions of the gut like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The short chain fatty acids also play a role in balancing our blood sugar and hunger hours and hours after our food is ingested. Good sources include beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts.
When looking to increase the fiber in your diet, do not be fooled by tricky confectionary companies that cheat by adding things like bran fiber into the cereal box to artificially up the fiber content. Much like everything else in the food we eat, it is likely the combination of the fiber and other countless nutrients in the foods we eat that have the best benefits. Cheat by throwing in just the fiber and the benefits are not likely to be as great. That’s why it’s best to avoid foods by the major confectionary companies with household names you grew up with and eat foods naturally high in fiber.
Now, back to this particular study. In it, researchers followed 11,113 subjects, from 20 to 79 years of age for 5 years as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to look at the relationship between heart disease risk, inflammation (as measured by C-reactive protein, or CRP) and fiber intake. Here’s what they found:
- Those young adults with a higher dietary fiber intake had a 271% greater chance of being classified as having a low risk of heart disease.
- In middle aged adults, the chance of having a low risk was 213%.
- When looking at those young adults who had an intermediate lifetime risk, those with higher fiber intake had a 198% greater chance.
- In middle aged adults, those who had a higher fiber intake had a 265% greater chance of having an intermediate risk.
- In general, the high the fiber, the lower the C-reactive protein levels.
To put it a little plainer, in all adults, those with the highest intake of fiber were much more likely to live their lives at a low risk of heart disease. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those with less fiber intake were more likely to live a life at a high risk of heart disease. This protection may have come from an overall lower level of inflammation, a major player in heart disease.
For a disease that remains a number one killer in modernized countries, the evidence remains that heart disease is almost entirely lifestyle driven. With this in mind…
How much fiber did YOU have today?