Most Canadians – adults and kids – need to eat more fibre to meet current recommendations. Increasing fibre intake can help guard against constipation, high cholesterol, weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.
Now, there's another reason to bulk up on fibre, one that's especially relevant for teenagers. A new study found that teens who don't eat enough fibre are more likely to have bigger bellies and higher levels of inflammation, two major risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
Constant, low-grade inflammation is recognized as a major contributor to diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's.
It's well established that carrying extra fat, especially around the middle, contributes to inflammation in the body. An elevated waist circumference is a proxy for visceral fat, deep abdominal fat that packs itself around the organs and pumps out inflammatory immune chemicals that can have harmful effects on blood pressure, blood clotting and insulin action.
Previous research in adults has hinted that a high fibre-diet may protect against obesity-related inflammation.
The current study – the first ever to assess the link between fibre intake and inflammation in adolescents – was published online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The researchers had 559 American boys and girls, aged 14 to 18, undergo testing to measure inflammatory chemicals in the blood and body fat levels, including visceral fat. Diet information was also collected to assess daily nutrient and fibre intake.
Teens with a low-fibre intake tended to have more visceral fat in and around the organs in the abdominal cavity and higher blood levels of inflammatory immune chemicals. They also had lower blood levels of adiponectin, a protective protein that helps the body use glucose and fight inflammation.
It's unclear how fibre might thwart inflammation. In the gut, fibre may absorb and eliminate inflammatory compounds. Fibre might also improve how the body uses insulin, possibly reducing visceral fat. It's also possible that fibre-rich foods contain phytochemicals, such a flavonoids in fruits and vegetables that dampen inflammation.
In this study, the average fibre intake was one-third of the daily recommended intake. Worse, only 1 per cent of participants met the daily requirement. (Boys, aged 14to 18, need 38 grams of fibre a day; girls, aged 14 to 18, require 26 grams.)
Canadian kids don't do much better. According to Health Canada, adolescent girls consume 14 grams a day while boys only slightly more, 16 to 18 grams.
A diet that discourages inflammation includes more than fibre-rich foods. Use the following tips to help add anti-inflammatory foods into your family's daily diet.
Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lentils, beans and nuts are top fibre sources. Choose whole-grain breads and cereals, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and quinoa.
Berries, pears, apples, dried apricots, figs, kiwi, mango and prunes are high in fibre. Fibre-rich vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, green peas, Swiss chard, spaghetti squash and eggplant.
Add lentils and beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, etc.) to salads, soups, pasta sauces and tacos. Sprinkle nuts over hot cereal and salads or toss in a stir-fry.
Focus on flavonoids
Naturally occurring compounds in plant foods, called flavonoids, have anti-inflammatory actions and have also been linked with protection from heart disease and stroke.
Excellent sources include berries, cherries, red grapes, citrus fruit, apples, broccoli, kale, onions, soybeans, green and white tea and dark chocolate.
Cold-water fish contain two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are used to make hormones that regulate inflammation in the body.
Aim to eat fish rich in EPA and DHA twice a week. These include salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies. (These fish are also low in mercury.)
Get plant omega-3s
Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fat in plant foods that has been shown to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels. Women and men require 1.1 and 1.6 grams of ALA a day, respectively. The best food sources include ground flaxseed (1.2 grams per tablespoon), flax oil (2.4 grams per teaspoon), walnuts (1.2 grams per 7 halves), soybeans (0.5 grams per ½ cup) and canola oil (0.4 grams per teaspoon).
Foods fortified with ALA such as milk, soy beverages and eggs generally provide 300 milligrams per serving.
Choose monounsaturated fats
These healthy fats are also turned into anti-inflammatory agents in the body. Particularly good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, avocado, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and peanuts.
Ginger, garlic, oregano and turmeric (a component of curry powder) have all been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods to limit
A diet that contains too much saturated fat, meat and dairy products, added sugars and refined (white) carbohydrates and omega-6 fats promotes inflammation.
Some, but not all, omega-6 fats promote the formation of inflammatory compounds in the body. The main source in our diet is vegetables oils such as soybean, sunflower and safflower oils.
Many experts believe for general health there should be a balance of omega-6 to omega-3s in our diet, a balance that requires consuming more foods rich in omega-3s and fewer foods high in omega-6s.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the National Director of Nutrition for BodyScience Medical and appears on CTV News Channel's Direct every Thursday. www.bodysciencemedical.com