If you don’t make a point of eating lots of fibre, it’s time to start. According to a recent analysis of studies conducted over the past 40 years, doing so can add years to your life.
And the sweet spot, it seems, is about 30 grams of fibre each day.
The fact that fibre is good for you isn’t news. Previous studies have linked a higher fibre diet to protection from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.
The new research, commissioned by the World Health Organization, combined 243 studies to analyze the impact of fibre intake on premature death and the risk of a diet-related diseases. It included 185 observational studies and 58 randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of scientific evidence. All in, 4,635 adults were enrolled in the studies.
The findings were published last month in the journal The Lancet and suggest high-fibre eaters have a 15- to 30-per-cent lower risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and cardiovascular-related death compared to people who eat much less fibre.
Study participants whose diets contained the most fibre also had significantly lower body weights, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
The researchers found similar results for higher intakes of whole grains, an important source of dietary fibre.
How much fibre?
The Lancet analysis revealed that consuming 25 to 29 grams of fibre a day was protective, but the data suggested pushing past 30 grams could be even more beneficial. Canadians consume, on average, a meagre 14 grams of fibre each day, one-half of the amount needed to guard against chronic disease.
The research investigated naturally occurring fibre in whole foods, not isolated fibre added to foods or supplements.
Fibre-rich whole foods retain much of their structure in the gut, which helps promote satiety and weight control. Fibre in the gut also reduces the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream and slows the rise in blood sugar after eating.
Once in the colon, fibre is digested by gut bacteria. By keeping your gut microbes in a healthy balance, fibre is thought to have wideranging beneficial effects including protection from colorectal cancer.
How to get it
To consume 30 g of fibre a day, you need to eat whole grains, vegetables and fruits every day.
Replace refined (white) grains with whole grain versions. Choose 100 per cent whole grain bread with 2 to 3 grams of fibre a slice. Look for breakfast cereal with at least 5 grams of fibre for every serving.
Serve whole grains at meals as a side dish or toss them into salads and stir-fries. Try freekeh (14 grams fibre a cup), farro (10 grams a cup), bulgur (8 grams a cup), quinoa (5 grams a cup) or brown rice (3.5 grams a cup).
Bulk up your meals with vegetables. High fibre choices include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, snow peas, green peas, Swiss chard, carrots, eggplant and sweet potato.
Enjoy fruit at breakfast, for dessert and as a snack. Blackberries, raspberries, kiwi, prunes, figs, pears, apples, apricots, mango and avocado are fibre-rich.
Eat more plant-based meals with beans and lentils (12 to 16 grams a cup) or edamame (8 grams a cup).
Try the following ideas for fibre-packed meals and snacks. Aim for 10 grams of fibre every meal.
- One cup oatmeal (4 grams) + ¾ cup raspberries (6 grams) + 1 tbsp. ground flax (2 grams)
- Two slices of 100 per cent whole grain toast (6 grams) + ¼ cup mashed avocado (4 grams)
- Omelet w/ ½ cup lentils (8 g) + ¼ cup chopped red pepper (1 gram) + ¼ cup cooked spinach (1 gram)
- Smoothie w/ 1 medium banana (3 grams) + 1/3 cup raw oats (3 grams) + 1 tbsp. cocoa (2 grams) + 1 tbsp. chia seeds (4 grams)
- Salad with 3 cups spinach (2 grams) + ¾ cup chickpeas (9 grams) + ½ cup sliced strawberries (3 grams)
- Whole wheat pasta (6 grams for every 1 cup cooked) + ½ cup lentils in tomato sauce (5 grams)
- Tacos with 2 whole wheat tortillas (2 grams) + ½ cup black beans (6.5 grams) + ½ cup corn (2 grams)
- Salmon + large baked sweet potato with skin (6 grams) + 1 cup sautéed Swiss chard (4 grams)
- One medium pear (5.5 grams) + 15 almonds (2.2 grams)
- One cup carrot slices (3 grams) + ¼ cup hummus (3 grams)
- Four cups air-popped popcorn (5 grams)
- Four dried apricots (3 grams) + ¼ cup pumpkin seeds (2 grams)
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan.
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