Fiber is good for your heart, lowers risk for diabetes and some cancers, makes it easier to control weight, and even lowers risk of death from any cause. Although most Americans get only half as much as they need, it isn’t too difficult to get more.
If you’re a bit skeptical about plain old fiber lowering your odds of dying, that’s understandable, but it’s true. For nine years, The National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study tracked more than 219,000 men and 168,000 women between the ages of 50 and 71. Compared to men and women who ate the least fiber, those who ate the most were 22 percent less likely to die for any reason.
The low-high intakes of fiber ranged from approximately 13 to 29 grams daily for men and 11 to 26 grams for women. While significant in health terms, these differences aren’t huge.
The researchers also found that high-fiber eaters had more education and lived a healthier lifestyle. But after taking into account other factors, such as smoking, the fiber-death connection still held true.
All types of plant foods naturally contain fiber but in this study, fiber from grains was the key link to a longer life. That isn’t to say that a healthy diet shouldn’t contain fiber from all types of sources, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts, but whole grain
is important.Smart Grain Choices
Switching cereals or other breakfast foods is one simple way to increase fiber. As a guide, the Food and Drug Administration allows a packaged food to be considered “high fiber” if it contains 5 grams per serving, and a “good source of fiber” with 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving.
Many cereals and other breakfast foods meet the 5-gram requirement, such as whole grain varieties of Van’s Waffles
, Puffins cereals from Barbara’s Bakery
, and many bran cereals. Look for low-sugar content and no artificial additives.
Whole grain breads may or may not fall into the “good source” category, with about 2 to 3 grams of fiber per slice. Whole grain should lead the list of ingredients and, like cereal, bread shouldn’t contain loads of sugars or artificial additives.
For other meals, switch from refined to whole grain versions of pasta and side dishes. For example, 1 cup of cooked brown rice is a good source with 3.5 grams of fiber and 1 cup of buckwheat groats, or kasha, has nearly 10 grams.Other Fiber Sources
For a well-rounded diet, the key is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. These are some higher-fiber choices that are easy to incorporate:
1 medium apple: 4.5 grams of fiber
1 medium pear: 5.5 grams
½ cup fresh or frozen raspberries: 4-5 grams
½ cup of beans or green peas: 8-10 grams
1 medium yam: 7 grams
½ cup cooked spinach: 7 grams
½ cup canned corn: 5 grams
If you plan to increase the amount of fiber in your diet, do so in stages, as a sudden increase can cause digestive upset. On the other hand, new fiber-rich foods can add some fun to your menu. Who doesn’t like berries on cereal or waffles?